HC Deb 03 March 1999 vol 326 cc1108-67
Mr. Letwin

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 14, leave out 'Session of'.

The Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 6, in page 1, leave out lines 15 and 16.

New clause 1—Duration of Act (No. 1) — '.—This Act shall cease to have effect at the end of the Parliament in which it is passed.'.

New clause 2—Duration of Act (No. 2)'( ) This Act shall cease to have effect twenty four months after the publication of the final report of the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament announced in Command Paper 4183.'.

New clause 10—Purpose of Act'.—The purpose of this Act is to make interim provision for the membership of the House of Lords pending further legislation to substitute for that House a Second Chamber constituted on a different basis.'.

New clause 13—Duration of Act (No. 3) — '( ) This Act shall cease to have effect and the repeals referred to in section 3 shall be ineffective when the present Parliament is dissolved unless a subsequent act has been passed affecting the composition of the House of Lords.'.

New clause 18—Termination of Act'This Act shall cease to have effect at the expiry of the period of three years beginning with its passing.'.

Mr. Letwin

The intended effect of all the amendments and new clauses is the same, although they seek to achieve it by different means. The need for them arises from the shambles and the constitutional outrage being perpetrated by the Government. I do not use those words lightly; this is the least impressive example of major constitutional reform that has been engaged in in the entire English-speaking world. The Government have introduced a Bill—in particular, clause 4—without having the slightest idea of the medium-term and long-term shape of the arrangements that will replace what is being removed. The Government have admitted as much.

Under those extraordinary circumstances, which historians who write the history of this patch of the Government's activities will find even more extraordinary than they seem to us to be, there is a need to try to introduce some semblance of constitutional propriety. The amendments and new clauses seek to provide that semblance. They do so by the simple expedient of asking the Government to alter the Bill so as to produce the effect that they say they wish to produce. It does not seem particularly outrageous to require that of a Government.

The effect in question is to make the interim Chamber an interim Chamber, rather than its being what many Government Members have said they believe it will be—namely, a Chamber that will exist, if not in perpetuity, at least for a period comparable to the 88 years during which the current Chamber has existed under not wholly dissimilar circumstances. We do not want a five-clause Bill that contains not the slightest description of that Chamber—and on which the greatest of efforts have been made to prevent the Committee from debating the constitution of that Chamber—to produce an 88-year Chamber.

Strangely, the Government do not want that either. We seem to agree on that matter. All we ask, therefore, is that the Government should ensure that the replacement Chamber cannot be more than an interim Chamber.

There are two means by which that can be achieved. The Minister will have noticed that we are trying both.

Mr. Hoon

indicated assent.

Mr. Letwin

We are never shy in trying to find means by which the Government may get themselves off the hook. The first means is to delay the effective introduction of the Bill until such time as, by the grace of God and Lord Wakeham and his colleagues, it will have been possible to define what the long-term Chamber will look like. The other is a sunset clause that would curtail the life of the interim Chamber, thereby presumably forcing some substitute to be constructed.

5.30 pm

It is a dangerous business for anyone, certainly for an Opposition, to speculate on the reasons why Her Majesty's Government, in all their might and with all the wise advice at their disposal, should so far have proved resistant to enacting as modest a measure as the implementation of their own stated desires in their own legislation. In the spirit of constructive opposition, rather than speculation, I offer the Minister four possible explanations of that bizarre reluctance.

The first possibility is that the Government do not believe that they will be able to enact stage 2 because of the serious internal division in the Labour party which has become abundantly apparent from many admirable contributions.

The second possibility is that the Government will not accept measures that would ensure that the Chamber was interim because they do not believe that they can enact stage 2, and do not intend that stage 2 should be enactable, given the royal commission and the Joint Committee, until after the next general election, which they believe they will lose. That view is not shared by most pollsters, but perhaps the Government know something that we do not.

The third possibility is much more generous to the Government's acuity but perhaps less so to their motivation, so I advance it only tentatively. They may not wish to enact stage 2. They may regard the interim Chamber as semi-permanent. That would make abundant sense of their reluctance to accept amendments and is a coherent rational position. Alas, it is not one that they have ever announced. It would be interesting if, in his no doubt admirable summary, the Minister revealed that the Government had changed their mind and that the royal commission was the farce that its terms of reference—though not its membership—suggest it may be intended to be, and that they had not the slightest intention of implementing stage 2 during their tenure of office, before, or, as they may hope, after the next general election.

The fourth possibility, Sir Alan—I am sorry. My goodness me, Mr. Winterton, there has scarcely been a more pleasurable moment than seeing you, alas not yet ennobled, in the Chair. In due course, you may gain a hereditary peerage of first creation and yet be able to sit in this Chamber and in the Chair.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Nicholas Winterton)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is long overdue that I should be recognised.

Mr. Letwin

The first three possibilities induced little enthusiasm among Ministers. I think the fourth is much the most plausible. I think that the four describe the universe of possibilities. The fourth possibility is, of course, that the Government have not the slightest idea whether the interim Chamber will be long, medium or short term. They hope that it might be short term but do not know whether the royal commission will produce anything acceptable or whether the divisions in the Labour party will prevent proposals from being accepted even it they are acceptable to the Government. They do not know whether they want a second Chamber in any event. They want to keep us in a sort of animated suspension. That is the interpretation that the British public are most likely to place on the Government's reluctance.

That approach speaks well for the Government in some ways because it suggests that there is no deep and malign intent. However, it brings us back to the point, which the Government can rebut only by accepting some or all of the amendments and new clauses, that this is a constitutional outrage. To proceed with a Bill of this magnitude without, if my speculation is correct, the slightest idea of whether what is being created will last a long or a short time is genuinely irresponsible. When the history books come to be written, the Government will be held to account.

Mr. Hogg

Does my hon. Friend agree that his points are made even stronger by what the Prime Minister said but a few days ago at a press conference when explaining his commitment to the retention of duty free—that one should not change existing arrangements unless one can see the nature of what will succeed them? If he was prepared to adopt that position with regard to duty free, why does my hon. Friend suppose that a different policy has been adopted on reform of the other place?

Mr. Letwin

As so often, my right hon. and learned Friend makes a particularly acute point. The Committee can speculate that the reason why the Prime Minister has taken that view in one case but not in the other is that he believes that it is popular to keep duty free and popular with some of his Back Benchers to get rid of hereditary peers. In short, we, and constitutional change, are being governed by the Prime Minister's desire to do what he believes to be politically expedient. That is why I call this a constitutional outrage.

Dr. George Turner

Has not the hon. Gentleman missed out the entirely honourable possibility that we were elected on a manifesto commitment to abolish in a single stage the hereditary right of peers to sit in the other place? Our manifesto spelled that out as a stand-alone commitment. Is it not honourable for the Government to deliver on their manifesto—or is that news to Conservative Members?

Mr. Letwin

It is perfectly honourable. We do not question the legitimacy of the Government's seeking to abolish the hereditary peerage. They were quite properly plain about it in their manifesto. They received an overwhelming endorsement for that—and, alas, for many other policies—from the British public, and they are now enacting it. We do not agree with it, but we do not complain about its propriety. However, it would have been proper for the Government either to work out what they wanted do in the long run or to ensure, as they could by accepting the amendment and new clauses, that the interim Chamber thereby created was genuinely interim, as it was described in the manifesto. We do not question the validity of the Government's getting rid of the hereditaries. We question the creation of an interim Chamber for which the Government have made not the slightest reasoned case and in whose interim nature no one, including members of the Labour party, can have any confidence. This is a modest proposal. The Minister should relax from his partisan tactics and consider whether he can justify the idea of an interim Chamber being created without its being in some way curtailed and, therefore, interim. That is all that we ask.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister is trying to be popular with his Back Benchers. I am always pleased when that happens. Certainly, such policies win my approval, including the removal of hereditary peers from the Lords. That is an important gain for all Labour Members. It is only right and proper that the longer term should be given more consideration. There are bound to be divisions of opinion. Why should we apologise for that? Some want a fully elected second Chamber, as the Tories now want—or claim to want. Others, like me, have different views. What is wrong with that? The royal commission should consider all those aspects and there should be a proper public debate on its recommendations.

Mr. Letwin

I do not have the slightest argument with the hon. Gentleman. He is right that it is appropriate that those long-term matters should be considered by a royal commission. So they will be, although alas not with the right terms of reference, not over the right period and not starting at the right time. The process could have started 21 months ago. The commission would have had 30 months to think about the matter. It did not start because the Leader of the House decided not to set it up. That is not our problem, although it will be the problem of the whole country, but we do not have the slightest disagreement with the hon. Gentleman that these things should be considered. Nor do the amendments and new clauses seek to prevent that occurring.

We merely seek to ensure that at the end of the royal commission's deliberations, there is a long-term Chamber in place or, failing that, that the Act does not come into force. All that we are asking is that the passage of the Act be made contingent on the Government doing what they say they want to do.

Mr. Swayne

If I understood correctly the intervention of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), he suggested that simply abolishing the rights of hereditary peers was all that was required to meet the manifesto commitment, and that the question of an interim Chamber did not arise. That is a perfectly proper and honourable position to take, but it is inconsistent with the position that the Government have taken. The Government maintain the fiction that they are creating an interim Chamber. Therefore, there is a gulf between the Government and the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk.

Mr. Letwin

My hon. Friend, as so often, moves us to the centre of the debate. As we go through the amendments and subsequent amendments before the Committee, we shall discuss the serious question of how the interim Chamber is to work. It is a question that, alas, the Government have not addressed. In not doing so, the Government have failed to resolve a number of serious practical questions about how the constitution will operate in the interim. The new clauses and amendments, alas, cannot in themselves resolve that problem.

At a later stage, owing to the admirable selection of amendments and new clauses, we shall have the opportunity to discuss those matters. I shall not trespass on your good will by describing them now, Mr. Winterton. These new clauses and amendments seek to ensure that there is sufficient pressure, or else a sufficient pressure valve, to ensure that there is not an interim Chamber without a proper constitution for ever. That is the modest intent.

The reason why we are so urgently concerned with that matter is that when the Government decided to get rid of the hereditary peers, they did not consider—this was the precise point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)—whether the Chamber that they thereby created would be capable of doing the job for longer than a very short period indeed.

There are severe problems with a Chamber that is the result solely of patronage, which is inevitably what the interim Chamber will be at first. From a sedentary position, the Leader of the House is quietly making remarks about appointments, commissions and Cross Benchers, but—

5.45 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

I would hate to mislead the hon. Gentleman. I was making the point that the peers are all there as a result of patronage.

Mr. Letwin

Yes. That was my point. They will all be there as a result of patronage.

Mrs. Beckett

No; they are now.

Mr. Letwin

Indeed, but they will all be there as the result of the direct patronage of recent Prime Ministers. A larger proportion of them will be there as a result of the patronage of the present Prime Minister. But there will be rather few of them. There will be many fewer working peers than now, and they will have to do rather a lot. It is by no means clear to us how they will carry out their tasks. I do not believe that it is clear to the Government either. We shall discuss some of the details in subsequent amendments, but it is clear that if the onus of those tasks is placed on a small number of individuals with their relatively slight attendance for a long period, the problem will be aggravated to the point at which the process of legislation will be impeded.

It is not in the Government's interest, let alone in the interests of parliamentary democracy, that the interim House should endure, with its admittedly temporary nature—this is the Government's admitted position—in the sense that it has not been constructed carefully or after due reflection but has simply had part of the previous Chamber removed. It will be a kind of teeth extracted House.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Wisdom teeth extracted.

Mr. Letwin

The Government have an interest in ensuring that such a House with, as my hon. Friend says, its wisdom teeth removed, is not a long-term proposition.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Is the hon. Gentleman not making the point that if the transitional House cannot carry out its functions because its Members are too lazy to attend, any idea that it could become the long-term solution is fanciful?

Mr. Grieve

Would that it were.

Mr. Letwin

From a sedentary position, my hon. Friend says exactly what I should have liked to say. I share entirely in the hon. Gentleman's ambition. The House proposed in the Bill will not be capable of doing its job. It is not in the Government's interests, our interests or the interests of Parliament that it should continue for long. We are in agreement. The new clauses and amendments seek merely to ensure that there is a logical consequence—namely, that it is does not do its job at all, under one arrangement, or, if the Government do not accept that, that it does not do its job for longer than a couple of years.

If the Minister replies that two years is not quite long enough, we are reasonable men and women and we shall be happy to concede a longer period. We are trying to be practical. We have a common interest in getting it right. I urge the Minister to think about it. I know that he will not accept the amendments and new clauses tonight. Alas, that is the way in which this place works. We are discussing a serious matter. I hope that the Minister will go back and reflect on whether it would not be in the Government's interests to do something along the lines that we suggest. It would restore the faith of people who elected the Government and convince them that they are a serious Government engaged in serious constitutional change, and that when they say they are creating an interim Chamber, they will, indeed, ensure that it is interim.

Dr. George Turner

The hon. Gentleman possibly does not recognise that many Labour Members do not think that the present House of Lords is doing a good job. I know many Labour Members who believe that simply removing the hereditary peers will make the interim Chamber a better place that is able to do a better job than the existing House. That does not mean that we do not want a second change, but I am convinced that Conservative Members and many others in this country would address the real issue in a different fashion if they were discussing both questions together.

Mr. Letwin

I am genuinely surprised by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It may be a sincere reflection of his lack of agreement with me about what goes on in the House of Lords. Or perhaps he has spent so much time attending debates in this House that he has not spent much time watching their lordships at work. Anyone who had the privilege to read or hear the recent debate on the White Paper in the House of Lords will know that the quality of debates in that House is very high. It is a House capable of performing its tasks. The interim Chamber will contain many of the same distinguished figures, but it will have about half the number of working peers. The burdens placed on working peers today are immense. The burdens placed on them in the interim House will be twice as great. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has considered what the workings of this country's constitution will be like if there is no limit to that increased burden.

I think that it was on Second Reading that the President of the Council made what might, in the long run, be her most famous remark. When challenged, she said that nothing could be worse than the present position; that seems to be the doctrine espoused by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk. I fear that, alas, history will prove them wrong. If the interim Chamber continues for long, it might well prove to be even worse. I do not mean that in a political sense, but simply in the sense that the Chamber will not be able to do its business properly.

If the Government deny that proposition, it is open to them to revise their views and to take what I described as route 2—or route 3: they can argue that they do not want a final stage and that they will never have one, but will build a proper House from the interim Chamber; however, that has not been their proposition. Until now, their proposition has been that the interim Chamber will be merely interim. They admit that it will not do its work properly and that they do not like it, but nothing could be worse than the current position; so surely the consequence has to be that the Chamber must be temporary. They seem to have accepted that consequence, except in the Bill. We ask only that the Bill should reflect the Government's intention.

No doubt, many hon. Members will say that I have already laboured my point and I do not want to detain the Committee, but I have one final plea to make. Even if the drafting of the amendments and new clauses, or the numbers included in them, do not suit the Government, I ask them not to put a flag in the ground that they cannot remove. On the contrary, I ask them to take the elegant position that there might be something wrong with the drafting—something that they cannot accept—and to come back with some equivalent that serves roughly the same purpose. If that opportunity is missed, a time will come when the Government, as much as the rest of us, live to regret it.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for introducing the group of amendments and new clauses. He has provided an important test of the Government's good faith. We now have the opportunity to find out what they think about the forms that we are considering—for example, what does stage I mean? Is it genuinely an interim stage that will be defined or curtailed in some way, or is it part of a subterfuge whereby stage 1 will be stretched out into the far future?

I have one small question. It is self-evident that some of the new clauses, even those tabled by my hon. Friends, are contradictory. Therefore, will my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset ask you, Mr. Winterton, that they be voted on separately? They will all have different effects: for example, the Committee must decide whether we want the Act to cease at the end of the Parliament in which it is passed", as new clause 1 states; or whether we want it to cease after 24 months as specified in new clause 2. Setting aside remarkable coincidences—although they are always possible—those two provisions will have different effects. Part of what we are discussing is the relative merits of different approaches and, for that reason, we shall almost certainly want the opportunity to vote on the new clauses separately. I leave it to my hon. Friend to make that request to you, Mr. Winterton, as I think that it would need to be he who did so, but I want to put down that marker so that the Committee can do justice to all the issues covered by the group of amendments and new clauses.

Mr. Tyrie

As my right hon. Friend is aware, new clause 18, which I tabled, provides for a period of 36 months. I do not know whether he thinks that that is a sensible time, but the reason I chose it is that if we are to have a year for the work of the royal commission, it is only reasonable and sensible that there should be two years after that during which the necessary legislation can be passed. It is important that those who propose amendments should demonstrate that their proposals will provide sufficient time to enable sensible stage 2 legislation to be introduced.

Mr. Forth

Indeed. I hope that my hon. Friend will expand those remarks and explain more fully why he believes that three years is the option to be preferred.

At this stage, my own view, for what it is worth—I speak tentatively because I have not yet heard the arguments of my hon. Friend—is that his three years is on the long side. My preference would be for the timetable to be as tight as possible, not because I am unduly suspicious of the Government—although I am—but because I believe that at this stage, we are surely able to set out for ourselves a timetable for the work of the royal commission and the deliberations that will follow that is much more demanding even than my hon. Friend's three years. That is my view, but perhaps my hon. Friend wants to persuade the Committee otherwise.

On new clauses 1 and 2, my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset wants us to have the option of a deadline that is either the end of this Parliament or 24 months after the publication of the final report of the Joint Committee of both Houses. That deadline conceals a longer time scale that might approach the three years advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). We seem to be considering an earliest possible limitation date at the end of this Parliament, followed by either the deadline in new clause 2 or that in new clause 18.

Mr. Letwin

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and hope that he will recognise that we tabled this smörgåsbord of possibilities to show the Government that we had no fixed view on the precise time that should be offered. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) offers another possible view, and if my right hon. Friend has a particular preference on that menu—for example, the herrings rather than the mackerel—his view would weigh heavily with all of us.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend does not often make a fishy point, but this might be one of those rare occasions. I am slightly disappointed that he is being so generous to the Government, unless—I will share his generosity for a moment—he believes that the Minister will, at some point in this debate, offer the possibility that one of those reasonable time limitations will be acceptable to the Government. Only in those circumstances will we receive the reassurance that we seek. Why do we seek that reassurance? It is because, so far, neither I nor my hon. Friends have heard anything that would suggest that the Government are serious in claiming, as they have sometimes done, that stage 1—as it has come to be known—will be only interim and temporary and will be followed by stage 2.

To be reasonable, my hon. Friends are offering rather generous—indeed, overly generous—time limits, so let us take them as workable propositions. I shall not dissent unduly because, although I shall express my preference in a moment, I tabled no amendments and the implication is that I am prepared to accept one of those offered by my hon. Friends. We believe that the Government should be perfectly capable of coming to a proper conclusion about the second Chamber that will emerge within the reasonable time limits that we are offering in the new clauses. The Government envisage that the royal commission will undertake the substantive work of analysis, and there will then be a Joint Committee of both Houses which will enable the parliamentary part of the process to be undertaken. It strikes me that 24 months after the publication of the final report of the Joint Committee of both Houses is a more than adequate length of time for this important process.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Twenty four months would take us beyond the date of the next general election. If there were the kind of immobility on the part of the Government that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates, the issue would become a matter of contention between the three political parties in their manifestos for the next general election. Under the circumstances, it is not credible to challenge the good faith of the Prime Minister—who has staked his personal authority on this matter—by saying that the Government will not advance proposals for stage 2 if there is consensus by the next general election.

6 Pm

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman invites me to express my utter faith in the Prime Minister, but I am reluctant to do so at this stage.

Mr. Letwin

Did my hon. Friend understand the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) to say in his intervention that he interpreted the Prime Minister as saying that he would bring forward proposals for a fully fledged, long-term second Chamber if there were a consensus? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an extraordinary caveat when there is clearly no such consensus on the Labour Benches?

Mr. Forth

Indeed. Comments such as that—uttered in good faith by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), I accept—add to the unease of Opposition Members.

Mr. Grieve

May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice)? His remarks are made in good faith because they are a precise reproduction of the words of the Prime Minister, with all the accompanying caveats. The hon. Gentleman has accurately reflected the Prime Minister's precise comments on this subject.

Mr. Forth

I will leave it to the hon. Member for Pendle to decide whether he wishes his remarks to be categorised in that way. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a most important point by asking whether we believe it is proper—indeed, essential—to resolve the matter during this Parliament and to put in place the appropriate mechanisms that would define, and perhaps establish, the new, permanent stage 2 upper House by the next general election.

There is no doubt that we face a serious dilemma: how do we see the relationship developing between the final, reformed upper House and the House of Commons? How will the interplay of forces leading up to the next general election for the House of Commons affect the final definition of the upper House? I share the view expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg): I believe that we should have a properly and directly elected upper House. For that reason, it is particularly important to define as soon as possible, the relationship between elections to this place and elections to the upper House. That is why the hon. Gentleman's point is so important.

Mr. Letwin

Does my hon. Friend agree that—unless it is disavowed by his Front Bench—the hon. Gentleman's intervention represents a change in policy? The foreword to the White Paper does not mention consensus. It states: New Labour in government will … carry out … longer-term reform of the House of Lords as a whole.

Mr. Forth

Indeed—and it would probably be better not to intrude into this area. I am sure that it would be a most unusual experience for the hon. Gentleman if he and his Front Bench were to disagree on this matter.

Mr. Gordon Prentice


Mr. Forth

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to elaborate on his views.

Mr. Prentice

I am not entirely sure what the Prime Minister said—and I cannot recall the antecedents of the word "consensus". However, in the context of the royal commission that has been established and will report speedily by the end of the year, I am sure that most reasonable people would accept that, if a consensus emerged between and among the political parties, it would be possible to move towards stage 2 and reach an agreement on that by the end of the Parliament.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman has added something very important.

Mr. Prentice

The right hon. Gentleman keeps saying that.

Mr. Forth

I shall continue to do so as long as Mr. Winterton allows it. If the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues echo his comments—which he has made on his own behalf or on behalf of his party—that will introduce a new factor. I do not know what "consensus" means. I have always been very suspicious of consensus as a political concept: it is not something with which I have ever felt particularly comfortable. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I could discuss over a cup of tea exactly how consensus would emerge, how it would be defined and identified and how far any dissent from that consensus would be accommodated. We could discuss all of those things some other time. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the matter will be resolved in a timely fashion only if consensus—however that is defined—emerges, my unease is multiplied. I believe that that adds to the argument in favour of the new clauses that we are discussing.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

I, too, am troubled by the word "consensus". It is usually achieved in one or two ways—although there may be more. The first involves some kind of deal brokered between party managers and the second, perhaps cleaner and more straightforward, involves a guillotine. Is that the way to achieve consensus?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend and I share the burden of having served in the European Parliament. He and I moved in an environment of consensus for longer than I wished—and perhaps for longer than he wished. We have experience of a political system that is based on consensus—which may be shared by the hon. Member for Pendle, I know not. That perhaps explains the unease with which I greet this new element that has been introduced into the debate—and my hon. Friend obviously shares my unease.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend is perfectly right to refer to a time when he and I were Members of another place in Strasbourg, where consensus politics was practised—although I am not sure whether it was the same as the consensus perceived by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). Under that consensus politics, the spokesmen of nine or 10 groups would spend 24 hours working out a text to which all could agree, by which time the text would be completely meaningless.

Mr. Forth

That is the danger. We cannot have anything that is meaningless when dealing with such crucial matters. In this group of new clauses, we are considering whether it is our duty to try to ensure, as far as we are able in this Committee and the House of Commons, that the process upon which we have embarked and upon which the Government have taken us will be completed properly in a way that may be anticipated and defined.

Dr. George Turner

I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the speed of the process. However, one of the amendments seeks to involve existing hereditary peers in the debate about what will replace them, and the other two amendments seek to resolve any kind of unforeseen delay by bringing back hereditary peers. That is the effect of the amendments. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why bringing back hereditary peers or allowing them to be involved in the debate addresses his concern?

Mr. Forth

It would concentrate the Government's mind rather wonderfully; that is self-evident.

Mr. Grieve

Labour Members seem to have completely missed the point that nothing would prevent a subsequent Government from returning within the period and saying, if they so wished, that the interim arrangements should remain for eternity. At least the Government would have to come back to the House and state that that was their policy decision regarding stage 2. Under the present system, they need not say anything at all and the process may meander along for ever.

Mr. Forth

Of course, my hon. Friend is right. We are trying to guard against incompetence or, worse, a deliberate attempt, which could be made only by the Government, to prolong the interim arrangements of stage 1 in a way that would be unacceptable not only to most of my hon. Friends, but to most Labour Members. I hope, therefore, that we shall find consensus on that matter as the debate develops. Who knows?

I do not want to take up undue time.

Mr. John M. Taylor

I am almost as near cross as I could be with my right hon. Friend, because in the previous debate, he confessed to his colleagues that he had not sufficiently prepared his work and that he could have said a great deal more. I hope that he will not say that to us all over again.

Mr. Forth

No, I assure my hon. Friend that I have covered most of the ground that I wanted to cover in the way that I intended.

In conclusion, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that although I support the new clauses in his name and the names of other hon. Friends, I hope that he will ensure that at some stage we have the option of making a proper choice between the time scales in his new clauses, after we have had the debate to find out hon. Members' views. Unless the Government give us more assurances about what is in their mind and what commitment they are prepared to make, we should certainly press one of the new clauses so that it can form part of the Bill and we can reassure the people of this country that there is no possibility of this legislature having an interim upper Chamber that is not fully formed, fully supported or fully accountable.

Mr. Winnick

I get the impression that the Conservatives have changed their ploy because it is not popular in the country, to say the least, to be seen to defend the hereditary principle. They have decided that that is out of the question because they know, as we do, that they are not likely to win much public support by doing so. They have therefore changed their tactics. Instead of giving the impression that they will fight tooth and nail for the hereditary principle, all the emphasis is now—as it has been during the Committee proceedings—on whether the second stage should happen sooner or later. That is purely a ploy.

Mr. Letwin

I want to correct an impression. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have made it abundantly clear that we support the hereditary principle in the monarchy, where property is concerned and in other respects. We accept that there is great merit in the proposition that hereditary peers should not have the right to vote in the House of Lords.

Mr. Winnick

Yes, but it is remarkable that not once during their time in office did the Conservatives take any action to undermine the hereditary principle. When the Bill becomes law and perhaps after a few years have elapsed, the Conservatives may want to give the impression to the country that it was they who did their best to get rid of the hereditary peers. They are quite capable of doing so, and the way in which they have claimed credit for the welfare state should give us cause for suspicion. [Interruption.] I do not know what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is saying from a seated position, but I know that at no stage in the previous Parliament or any other Parliament in which I sat during those ancient times have the Conservatives made any proposals to get rid of the hereditary peers. They might as well admit it because everyone knows that to be the case.

Mr. Letwin

The hon. Gentleman ought to admit that it is slightly odd for a member of the current Labour party to complain about another party having adopted somebody else's clothes.

6.15 pm
Mr. Winnick

I have made it clear that the Conservative party came to the conclusion that there is no point in defending the hereditary principle; there are no votes in doing so, and the party would be discredited at the next general election if it tried to do anything of the kind. All the Conservatives' emphasis is therefore now on stages 1 and 2. The gist of their argument is that it would be highly undesirable to implement only stage 1 and we should know about stage 2 and when that will be implemented.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming what appears to be a recent conversion by the Conservatives to not supporting the hereditary principle for the House of Lords? In its 1997 election guide, the Conservative party supported that principle.

Mr. Winnick

Indeed, my hon. Friend makes a valid point, but we know how opportunist the Conservative party is. As Conservative Members would no doubt argue privately—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I remind the Committee that we are debating a specific group of amendments and new clauses, and we should not go wide of that.

Mr. Winnick

I return to the point from which I did not want to depart—the argument about the first and second stages. No one knows what the royal commission will recommend. Indeed, we do not know whether there will be a consensus among its members. However, I have long thought that it would have been arbitrary of the Government to propose a long-term solution for the other place without having an inquiry such as that by the royal commission and, following that, a proper public political debate about what should occur.

I do not for a moment accept that as a result of the elimination of hereditary peers—not literally, I am glad to say—in the first stage, it will be difficult for the other place to function, as the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) argued from the Dispatch Box. There may be problems, but he greatly exaggerated the possibilities, and serious problems will not occur. I am sure that the other place will be able to carry out its functions without the hereditary peers.

Mr. Letwin

Has the hon. Gentleman read the list that has been compiled of the amount of time that Labour working peers appointed by this Administration spend in the House of Lords? If he does so, he will discover that one such noble Lord—to avoid embarrassing people who are not present, I shall not read out names—who is a major donor to the Labour party's coffers, has participated in none of the possible votes and has attended the upper House twice. There are many others who have attended for less than 50 per cent. of the possible time. That is in stark contrast to the high attendance of some of those working hereditary peers who will be removed. I do not criticise the noble Lords concerned—they are out there earning an honest crust.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I criticise the hon. Gentleman for something unforgivable—an overlong intervention.

Mr. Winnick

The bulk of work is undoubtedly carried out by life peers.

Mr. Letwin


Mr. Winnick

Yes, it is, and I could quote statistics, but I do not want to prolong the debate. Moreover, there is no doubt that, although their lordships may have to work longer hours, they will be able to carry out their functions properly in the first stage.

I turn now to a serious point that was the subject of a leading article in The Times on Monday—the nature of the second stage. The hon. Member for West Dorset said that there were differences of opinion on the Labour Benches. Yes, there are, and why should there not be? Are we to believe that every Opposition Member now thinks that the second Chamber should be elected?

Sir Patrick Cormack

indicated dissent.

Mr. Winnick

I see that the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. There are differences on the Labour Benches, just as there are on the Conservative Benches.

When we get to the second stage, I want—preferably on the basis of consensus, although that may not be possible—a long-term solution to the membership of the upper Chamber. That is why I am pleased that we are not rushing into the second stage and that we are having a royal commission. It is also why I argue strongly that, following the recommendations of the royal commission, we should have a full and proper debate—to some extent, that debate will take place within the parties themselves.

I do not for one moment dispute that I am reluctant to see a fully elected second Chamber—not, I hope, because I have ceased to be a democrat, but because I am concerned about the powers of this House. I want us always to take the leading role, so I am bound to be concerned that a fully elected second Chamber, with all the legitimacy of a directly elected House, could challenge the role and authority of this place. Some hon. Members believe that that would be right, but I do not. All that I am saying is that we need to pause, have a debate and come to a conclusion in due course which will, in the main, meet the wishes of the vast majority of the Members of the House of Commons.

Mr. Garnier

Is not the hon. Gentleman a little surprised that in the 18 years of thinking time that the Labour party had, it did not come to the House much earlier with definite ideas about stage 2? We still do not know what the Government think about stage 2.

Angela Smith

The Conservatives did not do much thinking.

Mr. Winnick

As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) rightly says, the Conservatives did not do much thinking. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is conceding what I said earlier—there was no wish to change the composition of the House of Lords. We have heard from his mouth what we already knew.

If the present Government came up with a blueprint and said that they were going to do away with hereditary membership of the House of Lords and rush into the second stage, I know what the reaction of Conservative Members would be. They would say that it was being imposed arbitrarily, that there had been no royal commission and that it was wrong that such a step should be taken.

In effect, what we are doing is in accordance with what we said during the election. We said that we would remove the hereditary peers and then give proper consideration to the make-up of the second Chamber. What is wrong with that? What is undemocratic about that?

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting soliloquy on the Government's approach to the Bill, but we are dealing with precise amendments. Does he agree that those amendments allow for all the things that he is seeking, but also say simply that there will be a limit after which a decision on the final form of the second Chamber has to be made and brought to the House?

Mr. Winnick

I do not believe that there should be such a strict limit, which is why I oppose the amendments and new clauses. I do not believe that it is desirable. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) said in an intervention, if the amendments were carried, there would be a possibility that the hereditary peers could be brought back, which is just about the last thing that Labour Members want.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way. However, what he says is not so, and he knows it. The amendments and new clauses would simply concentrate the Government's mind. The Government would have to come to the House for a renewal of the lease of the interim House, and this House would then decide. In a new Parliament, this House may take a very different view from the present one. It is very important that we do not lurch or drift, which is the Government's policy at the moment. Frankly, it is unacceptable with such an important constitutional issue.

Mr. Winnick

If it is not desirable to lurch or drift, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, it is also not desirable to fix a wholly inflexible time limit which has no purpose whatsoever.

When the party battles are over and this measure becomes law—this is not simply a party political point in support of my Front-Bench colleagues, although I support the line that they are taking—we must, in all seriousness, find a proper balance between the two Houses. If possible, we should reach a consensus between the three main parties about the make-up of the second Chamber. That would be more desirable than introducing legislation for the second stage in a controversial way, as we are doing in respect of hereditary peers. It is necessary to pause, as I have said, and give the royal commission time to make its recommendations.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the time that the royal commission has been given is indecently short?

Mr. Winnick

No, I do not. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman even about that. It is desirable that the royal commission should report as soon as possible. Judging by the arguments deployed by the Conservatives today, I should have thought that that was their point of view, too. Indeed, I believe that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) agrees that the time given to the royal commission is right.

All in all, I believe that we are taking the right step. I have served in the House for a long time, and I am pleased that I sit on the Benches of a Labour Government who are at long last doing what no previous Labour Government have been able to do—remove the undesirable principle whereby people should sit in Parliament for no reason other than their ancestry. Once that is done, it will be possible—if there is good will—to move to the second stage.

There is no reason why the amendments should be accepted. They are wholly inflexible and, as I said, they are simply a ploy by the Conservatives who know that they can no longer defend the hereditary principle.

Mr. Maclennan

If one peers through the miasma of conflicting options and the spun arguments in support of them put to us by the official Opposition, one sees that, notwithstanding their contradictory nature, there may be a grain of concern which we should address in respect of the undesirability of the stage 1 settlement lasting indefinitely. On that there seems to be no division among the hon. Members who have participated in this debate, and no difference of opinion with the Government. Indeed, I venture to say that those who have expressed uncertainty about consensus have witnessed consensus on that point.

It has been clear from the beginning that stage 1 is a phase of reform that is being embraced to improve the upper House, but it is by no means to be the last resting place for the second Chamber. I find it puzzling that the official Opposition keep coming back to the same point. They see no reason to accept the Government's commitment on this issue, but the Government's record on constitutional reform has not been one of delay, dither, uncertainty or unwillingness to take major, remarkable and almost revolutionary steps—quite the reverse. The record of this as yet rather short-lived Government is one of unparalleled readiness to change. Notwithstanding that record, why are the official Opposition hung up about the Government's commitment to consider a plainly democratic, representative and accountable second Chamber?

6.30 pm
Mr. Letwin

If the right hon. Gentleman is right about the Government—he may be—does he accept that they ought to agree to some amendments, such as those before us?

Mr. Maclennan

No, I do not, and for the following reason. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman has not told me which of his amendments he would prefer Liberal Democrats to attach themselves to. We listened to him at some length, but at no point did he say, "This is the one on which I propose to make my stand." When dealing with possible constitutional alternatives, a little clarity, certainty and perhaps even priority are needed.

We should not embrace such a mechanistic device when proposing constitutional change. Indeed, it is odd that the Conservative party, which is noted for its interest in promoting stability, should seek to include in legislation something as unstable as any of the amendments that it has tabled, which would create massive uncertainty. Plainly, it would be fantasy to cling to what Parliament is legislating now, in the expectation that we could resurrect what it replaces. The idea that we could get rid of hereditary peers under the Bill and that, somehow, they might rise from their graves with their cerements around them and reinvent themselves as a legislature is extremely fanciful.

Mr. Letwin

Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that all we are trying to do is to trigger a need, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, for the Government to renew the lease. Is that not a reasonable device?

Mr. Maclennan

I like the hon. Gentleman's word device; that I agree with. The proposal is a device—not a constitutional settlement—which we should not accept. It is a device for a debate—

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I am dealing—I hope adequately—with the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). The proposal is a device to enable us to focus on the undesirability of our living with an all-appointed upper House. In so far as it is focused on that, it is a perfectly acceptable rhetorical way of proceeding—a sort of university debating society way of proceeding.

Mr. Grieve

Is not the whole of stage 1, on the Government's admission, a device, because, they tell us, it will enable stage 2 to occur by removing the power of hereditary peers to block the consensus that they claim is available?

Mr. Maclennan

There we part company. I do not go along with the view that the Bill in itself is not important. It is of great importance that we should abandon the hereditary principle in our legislature once and for all. I am not happy that there are threats to water it down later, although I understand why the Government are playing with that notion. I do not doubt for one minute, however, that, when the Bill is enacted, it will constitute an important improvement in our legislature. It will not make a perfect democracy—far from it—but it will have disposed of one of the most indefensible aspects, which undermines the strength of the upper House and its ability as a democratically legitimate Chamber to pronounce on the great affairs of state with authority, in a way that forces the Executive to pay attention, listen, act and respond.

Even if there were to be no further change—that would not be desirable or likely—what is proposed is preferable to what we have at present. I hope that the interim period will not be extended. Therefore, to that extent, I go along with what I take to be the underlying wish of other Opposition Members that the Government announce, as early as possible, proposals for stage 2.

Mr. Tyrie

The right hon. Gentleman said that the interim Chamber would be preferable to what we have at present. In that case, he clearly disagrees with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who said at his party conference in September 1995: in Labour's hands, the House of Lords is no longer to be made democratic—instead, it's to be made the most powerful quango in the land … I would rather rely on the serendipitous opinion of the illegitimate progeny of past kings' mistresses, than the appointees of a modern British Prime Minister". Why have the Liberals abandoned nearly a century of belief in an elected House to get into bed with the Labour party in the hope—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. If the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) wishes to deal with the intervention, I hope that he does so only briefly, because it concerned the merits of the Bill as a whole, not time and commencement, with which the group of amendments deals.

Mr. Maclennan

I certainly would not deal with that intervention at length, apart from saying that the Liberal Democrats are committed to this process because we have confidence that this is a facilitating measure, which will assist the process of reform which has eluded other Governments and parties more disposed to reforming the upper House than the Conservative party has ever been. Such reform defeated the Labour party in the 1960s; I was present during those dreary debates.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Is not the right hon. Gentleman merely parading a guilt complex, because the most notorious sale of peerages occurred under Lloyd George?

Mr. Maclennan

Lloyd George may have known my father, but I am not prepared to have the sins of my father visited on me.

The Bill is justified, and should set up a Chamber that is more legitimate than what it replaces. Appointees on merit of a range of Prime Ministers over the past three decades are certainly to be preferred to the serendipitous accidents of emergence in the upper House to which the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) referred. Views would have been split if the proposition was that the Bill is the point on which we are all going to stand. We are not. This is the first step of reform.

Yet again, I draw the White Paper to the attention of those who doubt that that is so. Governments cannot propose such changes more clearly than this Government have. In considering the timing of the successor Chamber, it is important to remember these words in the White Paper, which was published in January: If there is consensus, the Government will make every effort to ensure that the second stage of reform has been approved by Parliament before the next election. That is where the word "consensus" comes from—the Government themselves. That is the right way in which to approach the matter: to seek consensus and, if there is consensus, to act as quickly as possible.

I cannot guarantee consensus; if there is not a consensus, I hope that the Government will continue the process of reform, so that, at least by the next election, a scheme can be put before the country in the manifestos of the parties committed to it, which the electorate may ratify by their votes. At least then, in the early years of the next Parliament, the anomalies which we are undoubtedly creating will be short-lived.

The choice seems to be straightforward: to have either consensus before the election, in which case a Bill could be introduced in the current Parliament, or for the parties to state clearly at the next election how they will democratise the upper House, with the decision being made by the people, to whom, ultimately, the upper House will, we hope, relate much more closely than the present Chamber can.

Therefore, we should do no more than express our enjoyment and appreciation of the fun that we have had because of Conservative Members, and the hope that their pessimism is misplaced. I believe that it is. For those reasons, we should have no truck with any of the alternatives.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

I wish to make a brief contribution, and, in doing so, to pick up on some of the comments by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). He referred to the Bill as a constitutional outrage. As a Member of Parliament, I have received two letters on the Bill. I think that other Labour Members have had a similar response. That does not suggest that the Bill is a constitutional outrage. That is not the reaction of my constituents. By and large, it is not the reaction of people throughout the country.

In previous Parliaments, when constitutional outrages were perpetrated on the British people—such as the abolition of the Greater London council and the introduction of the poll tax—many more letters were sent to constituency Members of Parliament. People rightly understood the difference between what was genuinely a constitutional outrage and what was not.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does not the hon. Gentleman's postbag just illustrate that the issue is not the people's priority?

Mr. Rammell

No. My postbag shows that, having seen the explicit commitment in the Labour party's general election manifesto and seen the Government go ahead with great intent to implement that manifesto, the people are comfortable with what the Government are doing.

The hon. Member for West Dorset referred to the quality of debate in the House of Lords in the recent discussion on the White Paper. I wonder whether he was referring to the contribution from one of the hereditary peers who argued that democracy was a relatively new invention that should be given time to bed down before the protection for hereditary peers was abolished. Some of the blithe statements from Conservative Members about the supposed quality of debates in the House of Lords and of contributions from hereditary peers need to be, and should be, challenged.

Let me say deliberately and explicitly why the Government and I support two-stage reform and will not agree to the amendments. First, two-stage reform was in our general election manifesto. Most of us, I think, have a quaint notion that parties, once they are in government, should implement the commitments that they explicitly make in their general election manifesto. It is part of a process in which we believe: restoring faith in government and politics.

Secondly, my party, the Government and I have learned the lessons of history.



Mr. Tyrie


Mr. Rammell

I will continue with the point, and then give way.

Three times this century, there has apparently been a consensus on reform of the House of Lords. The last time we had such a consensus, there was a 5:1 majority in the House of Lords for the abolition of the right of hereditary peers to vote. The first occasion was 88 years ago. However, on every occasion on which that apparent consensus existed, the reform was ultimately blocked by apparently reasonable people, apparently advancing reasonable arguments. Although in principle they supported the abolition of hereditary peers, they could not quite agree on what would replace them and on the nature of a reformed second Chamber.

There is at least a suspicion on my part and that of some of my hon. Friends that some of those people never really wanted reform and used those arguments illegitimately to block it. The net result—we are still seeing it after 88 years—was that the vested interests of hereditary peers and of the Conservative party were maintained.

Were we to agree to the amendments that the Conservative party has tabled, we would allow such disingenuous supporters of reform—if they exist—to say that they want change, but not to say quite how they would agree to it. If we agreed to the amendments, there would be a built-in incentive for filibuster, spurious objections and arcane parliamentary tactics to delay the second-stage debate and legislation. The time limit which is referred to in the amendments would then be introduced, we would come to the end of that period, and reform would not have been agreed.

Mr. Grieve

I realise that the hon. Gentleman will not accept my word for it, but nothing could be further from the truth. The amendments are designed precisely to concentrate the mind. I fail to see—I will be interested to hear him deal with the matter—how they are incompatible with two-stage reform. In fact, they will ensure that the second stage comes about within a certain time.

Mr. Rammell

The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me if I do not have the greatest confidence in the conviction with which the Conservative party tables the amendments. We have heard much comment about concentrating minds. For the Government, but for the Conservative party in particular, carrying out reform in two stages genuinely concentrates minds, because we will then definitely have to create a reformed second Chamber.

6.45 pm
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from delaying matters, the amendments are about the desperation of the Conservative party to salvage some credibility in the whole debate about democracy? We are confident that we will reach the second stage, but, by tabling the amendments, the Conservatives are trying to claim some credit for making it happen. Will it not happen without their amendments?

Mr. Rammell

Absolutely. That is a fair point. My hon. Friend has rightly described the attempt to create a cloak of decency to hide the fact that, throughout its history and certainly at the last general election, the Conservative party fundamentally supported the hereditary principle: it said so during the last general election campaign.

The other objection to the amendments is one of fundamental principle. If hon. Members believe that the hereditary principle is fundamentally objectionable and that, therefore, the hereditary peerage should go, it is every bit as objectionable that those hereditary peers should be able to participate in the debate to determine who their successors and what the nature of the reformed second Chamber will be. Were we to agree to the amendments and introduce the timetable for the process by which the second stage had to be agreed, those hereditary peers would be able to participate and to influence the legislation on the reformed second Chamber.

Mr. Letwin

I know that the hon. Gentleman is one of most intelligent Members in the House—I mean that genuinely—but either he has not read the amendments or I have misunderstood them. Why does he think that they will change the relationship between existing peers and the debate?

Mr. Rammell

If we accept the Bill as it is drafted, hereditary peers will not be able to participate in the debate on reform of the second Chamber. If we accept one of the amendments, which sets a timetable that could mean a period of as little as 20 months between the passing of the Bill and the ceasing of its effect, it is possible that they will participate in the deliberations on the form and nature of the second Chamber. That would not be a legitimate role for hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

I do not accept the Conservative party's allegation that, either through intent or through lack of proposals, the Government intend such a second Chamber to be a permanent solution. The time scales set out in the White Paper require the royal commission to report by the end of the year. Even if we do not secure reform and the nature of the second Chamber agreed within this Parliament, it is inconceivable that the Labour party could go into the next general election campaign without explicit and specific proposals for further reform of the second Chamber.

That leads me to conclude that, this evening, we are seeing a smokescreen and delaying tactics. We should stick to our guns. We should recognise the delaying and blocking tactics for what they are. We should go ahead with what we set out in the Labour party manifesto at the general election, which was once and for all to do away with the entirely objectionable principle of hereditary peers.

Mr. Tyrie

It is impossible to disagree more than I do with the last point made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). If ever there was a set of amendments and new clauses designed to accelerate rather than delay what happens to the second Chamber, it is this one. The amendments and new clauses are designed to put a time limit on the prevarication and debate that might otherwise indefinitely delay a decision on the second Chamber in the second phase of reform. That is the purpose and intention behind new clause 18, which is quite the opposite of what the hon. Member for Harlow has suggested.

I shall return to the Liberals for a moment. I find it extraordinary that they should oppose these amendments and new clauses when they would inevitably and ineluctably hasten the speed at which we move to what the Liberal party has supported throughout its political life. Only a short time ago, I quoted the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who agrees exactly with that view. His view, as expressed a few years ago, was that to allow the Labour party when in government to go ahead with an appointed House could lead to indefinite delay or the non-realisation of what the Liberals have always stood for, which is an elected second Chamber.

I find it extraordinary—almost beyond explanation—that the Liberals should have suddenly capitulated on this most fundamental area of constitutional reform, which they have espoused for more than half a century. They have completely washed themselves out. In effect, they are saying, "Oh well, we quite enjoy our meetings in Cabinet. We get the odd secret document. In fact, it is all enjoyable." This has been a pathetic exhibition of capitulation and non-opposition.

Mr. Maclennan

There is nothing sudden about this. The agreement that the reform should take place in two stages, both of which would be conducted as speedily as possible, was entered into, quite some time before the last election, by the Liberal Democrat party and the Labour party. It was not a frolic of my own this evening. It is something that was ratified by my party at its conference.

Mr. Tyrie

So we now know that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was saying one thing to his party conference and another in secret negotiations with the Labour party. It is an extraordinary and dreadful story of a party selling out its principles for virtually nothing—for a mess of potage.

Mr. Letwin

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a remarkable precedent in Lord Jenkins's report, in that it seems likely that the Liberal Democrat party thought it had an agreement on that, too?

Mr. Tyrie

The Liberal Democrat party thought that it would get all sorts of marvellous things out of the Labour party. In fact, the Labour Government have merely implemented the agenda they would have implemented anyway.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. That is all very interesting, but it has little to do with the commencement and duration of the Act, which is what the amendments and new clauses are about. I know that the hon. Gentleman has tabled new clause 18, to which, no doubt, he wishes to direct his remarks and the attention of the Committee.

Mr. Tyrie

I have heard you make many apposite remarks, Mr. Winterton, in the Chair and elsewhere, and never was one more apposite than that. I shall return quickly to new clause 18 in particular, and to the group of amendments and new clauses in general.

The key question is whether we shall be better off with the interim Chamber or by staying as we are. If we cannot find a stage 2, we should return to where we are now, which is at least with a House that has some experience and tradition of scrutinising the Executive. What sort of House shall we be left with if the Bill is enacted as it stands, without a sunset clause? There are two possibilities. One is that we would have a House more than ever dominated by patronage. The Appointments Commission is nothing more than a fig leaf. It affects only a small proportion of appointments, and when set against the dramatic increase in appointments that the Government have been pushing through, it is scarcely relevant.

The average number of appointments each year over the past 40 years has been 22, yet the Government have been appointing an average of 66. That is packing on a grand scale and is in breach of all precedent. A House of patronage is not an attractive prospect. I have discovered, sitting in my place during these few days in Committee, that a good number of Labour Members have their doubts about patronage, too. An interesting amendment was tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I think that he overdid it a bit. He said that patronage was the bane—I cannot remember his exact words—of British political life, as if there was something uniquely bad in the state of Britain that did not exist in other countries. I have in mind Roman and Belgian patronage—

The Temporary Chairman

Again, this is very interesting, but it is not appropriate to quote what occurred in a previous debate. The issues that arise from the amendments and new clauses are very clear, and I request the hon. Gentleman to direct his remarks to them.

Mr. Tyrie

A more likely prospect is that we would end up with a patronage House, plus a rump of 91 peers. We must ask ourselves whether that or the House of patronage is something that we would be prepared to carry on with indefinitely. The purpose of new clause 18 is to establish whether there should be a provision in the Bill to stop that situation continuing indefinitely.

I believe that the interim House would leave power in the hands of the Executive to an unprecedented degree, such as we have never seen before. The interim House would probably be shorn of any ability to ask the Government to think again.

It is clear that many people in the Labour party do not believe that. They consider that the interim House would be an improvement; that has been suggested in several speeches this evening. I respect and understand that interesting view, which is based on a deep dislike of the hereditary principle. However, I ask Members who have put forward that view to consider the point that the interim House would lack the tradition that the current House has on its side. At least as a body it has a system and a way of working. That has enabled it to get on with its job, which would be severely disrupted by the Bill.

The interim House would be dominated by patronage. Nothing could be worse than a second Chamber completely dominated by the Executive; that would be worse than unicameralism. On that, I seem to have some Labour Members agreeing with me, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

It is not at all likely that the interim House would want to move on to stage 2. One of the extraordinary pieces of implicit nonsense in an otherwise excellent speech by the hon. Member for Harlow was the notion that hereditary peers were in themselves a greater obstacle to reform than an interim House would be, and a greater obstacle to stage 2. The hereditary peers know that they have little legitimacy; they have always said that. The hon. Gentleman referred to a debate that took place many decades ago in which they said that. We must ask ourselves what motive the interim House will have to move to stage 2. What possible motive would it have for pressing for that?

The lifers will be clinging on like grim death. As for the 91—if there are to be 91 of Cranborne's troops—they will be sitting on death row, and are hardly likely to be pressing for stage 2. They are likely to comply with the Executive on absolutely everything, except for the one thing that we need from them—sensible stage 2 reform. What is to be done about it? How can the interim House be made tolerable? I shall suggest some of the possibilities, but shall not allow myself, Mr. Winterton, to drift too far—to drift at all—from this group of amendments.

7 pm

In new clauses 17 and 20, which address the problem of patronage, I have already dealt with one possibility for ameliorating the interim House. However, those new clauses are only palliatives and will not tackle the problem more fundamentally. The best approach must be to have something in the Bill that forces the Government to get on with working up proposals for far-reaching reform. New clause 18, which I tabled, would be a vital guarantee of the Government's promise to deliver stage 2. Occasionally, Ministers mumble that they want to implement a real and substantive stage 2. Recently, they even said that they would like to get on with stage 2 more quickly. If that were the case, what have the Government to fear from new clause 18? What is wrong with this group of amendments? If the Government want to get on with the job quickly, this group of amendments could not possibly do them any harm.

I strongly expect that the Government will oppose this group of amendments because their heart is not in far-reaching reform. They are not interested in it. [Interruption.] Ministers laugh. What evidence is there to suggest that the Government are interested in far-reaching reform of the House of Lords?

I think that some hon. Members are interested in far-reaching reform. I have been greatly heartened by the number of Labour Back Benchers with whom I have had discussions who believe in an effective second Chamber and want far-reaching reform. However, I have heard from Ministers very little on the matter that is clear cut and not hedged with all sorts of mealy-mouthed words.

I have heard scarcely anything from the Prime Minister to suggest that he wants a balanced constitution; I do not think that I have ever heard him use that phrase. While he is dispensing patronage on such a grand scale, can the Appointments Commission be anything other than a fig leaf for his power in appointing life peers to the interim House? Does the Prime Minister really believe in checks and balances in the constitution? I have never heard him say clearly that he does.

The Prime Minister's actions on the Lords are sweeping aside all precedent. There was a long-standing precedent that there should be all-party consultation—or at least an attempt at it—before any Bill to reform the House of Lords was introduced in this place. On each previous occasion this century when House of Lords reform has been attempted, there has been such consultation, but there was none on this occasion. All-party consultation has not succeeded on every occasion, but at least there was all-party consultation in 1910, 1948 and 1968. On two of those occasions, legislation followed; on the other, as we know, it failed.

As I said, the Prime Minister is also breaking long-standing conventions on the number of peers appointed from his own party: more than 50 per cent. of his appointments have been from his own side. No other Prime Minister has ever broken that convention. As I also mentioned, he is appointing far more peers—in unprecedentedly large cohorts—than any other Prime Minister.

If the Government reject all the proposed sunset clauses, the truth will be out. Ministers will be showing that they do not really want to move to stage 2. They have already dragged their feet and been forced into appointing a royal commission. Initially, they hoped that the commission could kick stage 2 into the long grass; now, pressure has forced them to require it to produce its results more quickly. I think that it is still highly likely that the Prime Minister hopes that the royal commission will rubber-stamp a largely appointed upper House. I also think that many Labour Members, quietly, probably think the same.

The problem for Labour Members is that they have given the game away too often. The Labour manifesto itself says that stage 1 should be an initial and self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform. The Government's White Paper describes stage 1 as a "stand alone" reform. Today, the same belief was expressed by some Labour Members.

We thought that Labour Members definitely believed in at least something—getting rid of the hereditaries. I was astonished to discover that even that belief might be shelved, and that Labour Members might be asked to troop through the Lobby to support the Weatherill amendment.

Lord Weatherill himself has made it clear that he does not want just stage 1 to be an interim House; he has said quite the opposite. In The House Magazine of 11 January, he said: It's within the bounds of possibility that the Royal Commission may say this"— the interim House— has been working well—let's leave it alone. That would preserve continuity … Surely a consummation devoutly to be wished. That was the view of one of the two tablers of the Weatherill amendment itself: to make the interim Chamber, if the amendment is accepted, into a House of perpetuity, and to forget entirely about stage 2.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

The royal commission has to report by the end of this year. It is therefore scarcely credible for that proposition to be advanced.

Mr. Tyrie

Lord Weatherill is in quite a good position to assess what he thinks might be plausible. He made the proposition in public, as a reason why his own amendment should garner support in the House of Lords. I should have thought that that in itself was evidence that it might be a possibility. He is a former Speaker of this place and not politically naive; he is a pretty alert chap. That is what he thought might be the outcome of stage 1—stage 1 dragging on for ever and a day.

Above all, we need a lever to force the Prime Minister to act on his promise to deliver stage 2 reform. The sunset clauses are such a lever. My new clause 18 would provide what the Parliament Act 1911 lacked. The 1911 Act, too, was intended only to be a temporary measure, but it did not have a sunset clause to force through further reform. We are having this debate, 90 years later, precisely because that Act had no means of forcing implementation of the stated intentions of its drafters—more permanent subsequent reform.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Since it looks as if the hon. Gentleman will be speaking for the next 90 years, may I ask what is the point of the filibuster?

Mr. Tyrie

I am trying to make a few points, and I am terribly sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks they are not real points. Perhaps, if he reflects on them a little, he will find the odd point that he has not heard before. He has been an hon. Member for a very long time, and was perhaps in the Chamber in the late 1960s for the previous major debate on the House of Lords. Nevertheless, although he has undoubtedly heard many of the points before, I think that some of them are relevant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made an interesting point, with which I strongly agree, that, if the interim House were to turn out to be desirable as a permanent solution—if Lord Weatherill were to be proved right—it would be open to the Government, even if the sunset amendments were included in the Bill, to introduce another Bill to make the interim House permanent. Therefore, even if the Government accepted this group of amendments, but subsequently decided that they did not want stage 2, they would still be perfectly well protected. I can think of no reason for the Government, if they believe in stage 2, not to support at least one of the amendments in this group or to table a similar amendment of their own.

Having said that, none of the options for improving the interim House that I have outlined today is my preferred option. There are many more sensible ways of reforming the Lords than this bizarre two-stage approach—which, in itself, makes necessary the sunset clauses. The way forward, of course, is to have a democratically elected second Chamber. Let us allow some fresh air—the fresh air of democracy—into the upper House.

I believe that the Prime Minister is only paying lip service to the idea of an elected upper House. In the foreword to the White Paper, he attacks the hereditaries because they have "no democratic legitimacy". I agree that they have no democratic legitimacy, as do the hereditaries themselves. The Lords have said that many times over 80 years.

Does the Prime Minister mean to deliver a democratic solution? Is he prepared to try to balance the constitution? Is he prepared to get his own control freak tendency under control? Is he prepared to allow a second Chamber that works to rise out of the destructive aspects of the Bill? If so, the Government should have nothing to fear from new clause 18. They should have everything to gain from it, because it would allay the fears of many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who want a second Chamber, but fear that the Government intend merely to neuter the upper House and leave reform at that.

Mr. Hurst

I have been looking for a common thread in the amendments and new clauses. It can be summed up as: commencement late; duration short. I am fascinated by some of the amendments and new clauses. One amendment that has not been selected says: This Act shall not come into force until a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament has studied the operation of the Canadian Senate. We are not told to what standard that study should be—O-level, A-level, degree or doctorate—so the amendment is imprecise, but I understand why the Conservatives are interested in the workings of the Canadian Senate. There is a fleeting reference to it on page 25 of the White Paper, saying that it was intended explicitly to provide a conservative counterbalance to a potentially radical Commons.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. The Canadian Senate is a purely appointed body. It has come in for a great deal of criticism because it is toothless as a result.

Mr. Hurst

If that is so, the intention of those who set up the Canadian Senate was not successfully implemented. All upper Houses throughout history in every part of the world have been set up, or allowed to remain, to slow down or thwart the will of democracy. It does not surprise me that one has to adapt to modern times.

Another amendment suggests that we should study the New Zealand Parliament and the abolition of its upper House in 1950. I hope that other hon. Members agree that until New Zealand was foolish enough to change its voting system to something quite grotesque, it was, with a single Chamber, one of the most successful, enlightened and progressive democracies in the world. We claim to have founded the welfare state, but New Zealand was ahead of us in many particulars. I would welcome a study of the New Zealand system following the abolition of the second Chamber, but that is no reason to delay putting the Bill into effect.

I do not propose to filibuster. I believe that that is primarily an American device, not so known to our constitution. We need to be clear soon about where we are going. Delaying putting the Bill into operation will not achieve that. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Conservatives' belief in democracy for an upper House, as was true of their forebears in 1911, but I doubt how quickly their proposals would go forward. Those in 1910 and 1911 were sincere in their commitment to democracy, but it took two general elections and the threat of the creation of 500 new peers to ensure substantial progress. Very little progress has been made since then. We need to begin the process by passing the Bill into law as soon as we can. Thereafter, consideration of what should replace the House of Lords—if anything—can take its course.

7.15 pm
Mr. Leigh

In a night of several long speeches, hon. Members will be relieved to hear that I intend to make a short speech. I should like to put a different perspective on what we have heard.

The Weatherill solution could well prove permanent and I support it. I realise that I am at variance with many hon. Members in that. The system that will emerge will be an orphan, because neither political party is prepared to claim credit for it. The Labour party will not claim credit for the Weatherill solution for the simple reason that it preserves the hereditaries, albeit fewer of them. The Conservative party will not claim credit for the Weatherill solution because it cuts the number of hereditary peers to 91. I believe that it is a good British compromise. It is entirely within our traditions and should be supported by hon. Members on both sides as a fair solution.

It is not good for the House of Lords to have a permanent, inbuilt Conservative majority. That often results in the House failing to oppose bad legislation. The preservation of a limited number of hereditaries in the Weatherill solution is no bad thing, because it provides for the continuance of an independent element. Regardless of whether one supports it in principle, it will probably last because any other solution has so many enemies ranged against it on the old Foot-Powell axis that, as the Government have rightly determined, it would be bound to fall foul of the House of Commons. If the House of Lords was entirely elected, it would be a pale imitation of the House of Commons and would be controlled by the Whips, as this place is. If it was partially elected and partially appointed, the appointees would be there for life and would be independent of the Whips, but would lack the democratic legitimacy of the elected members and would be able to do what they liked. All the possible solutions are logical in their way, but any other will be rejected. The interim solution is justifiable.

Those who support the Weatherill interim solution should have the courage to say so. That is why I support the amendments. The Government are entitled to abolish the hereditary peers because they put the measure in their manifesto and were elected. However, it is wrong for them to abolish the hereditaries without revealing their long-term ambitions. We all know that they have done that because otherwise it would be impossible to gain any consensus; we all understand that. Surely by the time of the next election the long-term solution should be clear to the British people, be it the Weatherill solution, a partially elected Chamber or a fully elected Chamber. Surely that is all that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is asking for.

I am sure that Labour Members do not like the amendments. Why should they? They have been drafted by Conservatives and could result in the hereditaries being re-created in all their splendour—although it is inconceivable that that would happen. I should like to repeat a point that was made earlier in a non-partisan spirit. We know that the Government are not going to accept the amendments, but there is a serious intent behind them. I accept that the Government are well intentioned and that the Minister is a genuine radical, not just a cynic like me. He does not accept my arguments about the Weatherill solution lasting for ever. I accept that he wants a non-Weatherill, non-hereditary solution. He wants to do something.

I merely plead with the Minister to make it clear to the British people when he decides the final shape of the Bill—or when it becomes an Act—that the matter will be finally determined in this Parliament. If he does that, when people vote in the next general election—or, hopefully, before that—the new constitutional set-up will be clear. That is all I ask.

Mr. Grieve

I intend to be brief, because I have already raised some of the matters that I would have raised in my speech in interventions.

I simply do not understand the suggestion by Labour Members that the amendments were designed to thwart the Government's entirely legitimate aim of getting rid of hereditary peers, which is their stage 1 ambition. They do no such thing. They enable the Government to achieve their aim: indeed, the point has been entirely and properly conceded by the mere fact of the Bill's having been given a Second Reading.

I might add that it is true to the Conservative tradition that, having been reluctant to consider alterations to the form of the Upper House—because we have found it difficult to see how they could be implemented—we should be the most desirous of radical changes in the way in which the second Chamber operates, now that the logjam has been shifted and the principle of change has been established. I certainly am. I have tried to adopt a consistent approach to the Bill, and I intend to continue to do so.

I think it was the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) who told us that we should be in no doubt about the Government's willingness to proceed to stage 2. There it was, in black and white, in the White Paper; it could be accepted without any difficulty. The history of the past 12 months, however, suggests that the Government have experienced appalling difficulties in wrestling with stage 2. I do not wish to be cynical about the Government's difficulties, because I think that they are genuine; but we have had to extract bit by bit even the concessions that made the completion of stage 1 possible. Without that, there would have been no royal commission a year ago. Certainly there was no talk of it, and there was no real suggestion that stage 2 would be taken further. The Weatherill amendments—which are at least a concession to the upper House, in that they imply that stage 2 will come—have also had to be extracted, in the teeth of massive opposition, and threats of opposition, to the Bill.

I want stage 2 to happen, and given the fashion in which the House of Commons operates, there is no better way of ensuring that it happens than guaranteeing that the matter returns to the House within a set time. Sleeping dogs are usually allowed to lie, and nothing is easier for a Government than to say, "We have too much other legislation before us. The agenda is too full. We have no time in which to consider the matter, so we will put it off."

A finite time limit is needed. After all, if such a limit is not observed, it will be possible to return to the status quo ante. I appreciate that that is anathema to most Labour Members, and I would not like it to happen; a time limit would guarantee that we applied our minds to the issue within that period. Once we have done so, if the interim Chamber has indeed commanded the most widespread support, we shall be able to ratify it. Heaven knows, that would involve a only one-line piece of legislation: it would not exactly interfere with a Government's future timetable. If that does not happen, we shall be forced to settle down and work out how the second Chamber should operate.

It is clear that there are major divisions of view, which cross party lines. There are also legitimate issues for discussion. I am the first to admit—although I strongly favour an elected second Chamber, which should not be elected by Government and prime ministerial patronage; that is the key issue—that many questions must be dealt with. For instance, there is the question of keeping a range of expertise in the upper Chamber. I should like to discuss all those matters: they need to be discussed.

If the amendment is not accepted, we shall be presented with a blank cheque allowing nothing at all to happen. Whatever view is held by Labour Members—whether they favour retaining the interim arrangements, opting for a radical second Chamber or abolishing the upper House entirely—by voting for the amendment and those grouped with it they will guarantee that the matter will return to the House for further consideration. Without the amendment, there will be no such guarantee. That is why I feel so strongly that it should be accepted.

Mr. Swayne

I had intended to detain the Committee for some time, but I now see little point in doing so. The speech that has silenced me is that of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). He pierced the heart of the issue when he pointed out that Labour Members simply did not trust us.

The amendment, and those grouped with it, were tabled largely because we are not persuaded of the Government's good intentions in respect of pursuing the agenda for phase two. That is certainly true of me. The amendments are, as it were, an engine to ensure that the matter is dealt with. The hon. Member for Harlow said that, from his party's perspective, the amendments are seen as proof of our own lack of good intent to pursue phase 2, and as merely providing a means whereby the status quo ante can be returned to after a period of filibustering, havering and scuppering of reform.

Following that impasse, I am not sure what the way forward is. I can only say that I believe the amendments to be important. They are particularly important in respect of the historical perspective. For 80 years, this issue has been bedevilled by an inability to concentrate the mind of the Executive on the question of reform. The amendments provide the necessary perspective—with the exception of new clause 10, tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I hope that he will explain the new clause to us, because it mystifies me.

It seems to me that new clause 10 falls into precisely the same error as the Parliament Act 1911, in that it makes a statement of intent. The 1911 Act made a statement of intent, but it has not been implemented in 80 years. I fear that any kind of statement of intent would be no more effective in this Bill than it was in that Act. The other amendments and new clauses, however, give us a range of options for providing the focus that is proper to the issue. It is undoubtedly the case that the focus of Ministers will change—as, indeed, it has already changed—but we are told that this is a matter of urgency. It was not a matter of urgency 20 months ago; it was not a matter of urgency in the first Session of this Parliament.

Other things will happen. The Government may lose their extraordinary run of good luck, and, like most Governments before them, become captive to events. They may have to react to events, and have to dominate their agenda very differently. In that case, this issue will be lost sight of; and that is why the amendment should be accepted.

7.30 pm
Mr. Garnier

I shall be brief, because all the Conservative speeches have been excellent. I particularly commend the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie).

The dangers of clauses 4(1) and (2) are highlighted—as are the advantages of the amendments—by what follows in subsequent subsections. There we see the Government giving a Secretary of State powers to make an order for such transitional provision about the entitlement of holders of hereditary peerages to vote at elections to the House of Commons or the European Parliament as he considers appropriate. Clause 4(4) goes further, allowing the Secretary of State to modify—another word for amend— the effect of any enactment or any provision made under an enactment. If we are to allow this Government or the Secretary of State to have those powers to tinker with the constitution in a way that he sees fit or appropriate, the sooner we get the Bill time-limited, the better. Whether it is a 24-month, a 12-month or a 36-month limit—or a sunset clause, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)—the sooner we get such a clause bolted on to the Bill, the better. If there is a constitutional outrage, it is to be found in the Secretary of State being given powers to tinker with the constitution by statutory instrument. I find that obscene. For that reason alone, I hope that my hon. Friends will pursue these amendments.

Dr. Fox

One of the difficulties of the amendments has been that this is the precursor of a precursor Bill. It is a precursor because we are getting only an interim House, because we are not moving to stage 2 and because we know that the Government will alter the content of the Bill in the other place. Indeed, the Leader of the House has stated that that is the Government's intention.

Several points were made on clause 2 this afternoon concerning anomalies in the Bill, caused by the way in which it will be enacted. The Bill will be brought in halfway through the Parliament, and the question of the disfranchising of hereditary peers was mentioned. The amendments seek to avoid that by bringing the Bill into effect at a time different from the one the Government want. Labour Members have said that this will tie the hands of the Government. Any Government wanting to come forward with a real stage 2 proposal would be glad to have their hands tied in that way.

The amendments do not thwart, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said—augment the position of anyone who wants stage 2 reform. That is all we seek. We have been consistent in saying that we did not want stage 1 reform without knowing what stage 2 was to be. The amendments propose to put into the Bill something that guarantees that we will not move forward until we know the final position. Amendment No. 5 proposes to bring the Bill into effect at the next general election, and we intend to divide the House on it.

Our intention is to avoid having the interim, unwanted, halfway and unnecessary House. It will be an interim House—but between what and what? We currently have an interim House—it has been there for 88 years. By that reckoning, our great-great-grandchildren will be back here in 2087 to discuss what should happen to the Chamber that the Bill proposes.

The Bill proposes that the royal commission and the Joint Committee should agree on a proper stage 2 proposal without considering something that nobody wants and which does not do what is required. That is one of the points that we have made. The interim Chamber does not represent an improvement on the government we have. Any substantial change in our constitution should represent an improvement on the way in which we are governed.

The proposal will not bring the Executive better to account than at present. It is not the House of Commons that is too powerful, but the Executive. When the House of Commons fails to do its job in bringing the Executive to account in a proper bicameral structure, we need a second Chamber which is willing to do that and which has that authority.

That is why I found the speech of the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) rather strange. The Opposition are trying to strengthen the upper House to control the Executive—not the reverse. The Government's proposals will weaken the upper House's ability to call the Government to account. That cannot be right. We are accused of being suspicious. Why? We genuinely doubt the Government's motives, and their willingness to move to the second stage. We believe that the first stage will be what we get in terms of reform. We want to know the end product—that is perfectly rational.

We believe that the Government's intention is to kick the matter into the long grass, and we have perfectly reasonable grounds for that suspicion. We have had to drag the White Paper and the royal commission out of the Government—neither was offered at the outset. It was only when the Government were faced with huge opposition—not least in the other place—that they were willing to grant these reforms. Why should we not doubt that they genuinely want reforms that will create a different locus of authority in this Parliament—something that might bring the Executive to heel?

We all know the real debate—we have been having it for 88 years. Should we have a second Chamber, as the hon. Member for Braintree legitimately asked? If so, should it have more or less power? If more power, what should these powers be? If it is more powerful, how should it be composed? Should it be appointed, elected, or a mixture of the two? We all know the arguments well enough to be able to move straight to the second stage without an interim Chamber that no one really wants, and which is composed in a way that is entirely opposed to the Government's manifesto. It will be a hotch-potch, cooked up to suit Labour Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) asked perhaps the most legitimate point of all. He said that the Government are asking us to accept a change to our system of government without telling us what that change will be. That is the most unacceptable thing of all. They say that they want stage 2—this is their chance to prove it. By accepting the amendments—and by tying their own hands—they will make it clear.

Any alternative proposed by the Minister will reinforce our suspicions that we will never see stage 2, and that the Government's intention is to provide a pliant halfway House full of yes-men with no power to stop the Government doing what they want. With the House of Commons already under the control of the Whips, there will be little to bring the Executive to account. That cannot be a healthy democratic structure.

These amendments give the Government a chance to propose a properly structured stage 2 reform. They will have the support of the Opposition should they choose to do that, and we will co-operate fully in the royal commission. We wish to see stage 2 completed. What we find unacceptable is that the Government—for party political reasons and reasons of convenience—should try to gerrymander our constitution.

Mr. Hoon

We have debated the two amendments and five new clauses together because they all deal, in one way or another, with the question of whether reform should proceed in one stage or in two, or whether attempts should be made to force the process into one stage or to provide a legal commitment to the second stage. Having heard two speeches from Conservative Front Benchers, we do not know which they would prefer.

We have had a great deal of sound and fury, particularly from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who talked about constitutional outages. He referred to an 88-year Chamber—harking back, I assume, to the 1911 Act. Had he analysed the constitutional history of the other place properly, he would have referred to 1958, not 1911. The 1911 proposal did not deal directly with the composition of the other place. The 1958 one did.

On Second Reading, I referred to comments made at that time by Conservative Ministers, who were proposing reforms that would lead to the greater efficiency of the House, and therefore to the better working of Parliament, bringing the House more abreast of the times. That was to be a reform in relation to composition, without dealing with the fundamental questions.

Despite what the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) may say, Labour Members want both stage 1 and stage 2. That was set out clearly in our manifesto. The amendments and new clauses are a fairly obvious attempt to delay the removal of the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote. It is perhaps significant, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, that Conservative Members now limit themselves to attempting merely to delay the reforms and do not oppose them outright.

Dr. Fox

If it is such a point of principle and the Government want stage 1 as an end in itself, as something that they promised in their manifesto, why has the Leader of the House already said that the Government will accept the Weatherill proposals, which are the complete opposite of what was in the manifesto?

Mr. Hoon

I will deal with that point in a moment. We are discussing the means, not the ends in themselves. In 1958, the then Lord Chancellor pointed out that there had been no fewer than 10 unsuccessful attempts over a period of 100 years to change the composition of the House of Lords. He said that they were all unsuccessful because someone had forgotten that the best can so often be the enemy of the good.

The Government want both stage 1 and stage 2. The amendments and new clauses will not help us to achieve that. We have made it clear, in a White Paper and elsewhere, that we are committed to reform of the composition of the House of Lords. The first step, as was made perfectly clear in the manifesto, is to end the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote.

Mr. Tyrie

Are the Government also committed to a democratically elected second Chamber?

Mr. Hoon

That is clearly a matter for the royal commission to advise on, for both Houses to resolve, and for further debate. We have said how that debate can take place.

Our ambition is to remove the rights of all hereditary peers. The point about the so-called Weatherill or Cranborne proposals is that there will be a great deal of enthusiasm behind me at the Dispatch Box for ensuring that the interim arrangements, if they are approved, are indeed only interim arrangements. Government Back Benchers will expect the Government to deliver the manifesto promise to remove the right of all hereditary peers to vote.

Mr. Letwin

To allay our suspicions, what is the Government's timetable for the implementation of phase 2?

Mr. Hoon

We have had a great deal of discussion about consensus. If there is consensus, and we move quickly through the royal commission and the Joint Committee, there is no reason why measures could not be introduced before a general election. That is a perfectly possible timetable; it is set out in the White Paper and it could be achieved. It clearly depends on achieving consensus.

We have been debating this for a very long time, not just 88 years, because the Parliament Act 1911 was the culmination of a long period of debate about the role and composition of the second Chamber. The royal commission will have plenty of material to be going on with, and there is no reason why it should not review that material and reach a judgment fairly quickly.

Mr. Leigh

The Minister knows perfectly well that there is no consensus. The Government must govern. Will he give a commitment that the nature of stage 2 will be clear to the British people by the next general election?

7.45 pm
Mr. Hoon

I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman's pessimism about the possibility of achieving consensus. In the most recent example of efforts to reform the second Chamber, in 1968, there was consensus. The Conservative party accepted the results of the various discussions and withdrew from supporting the proposals not because it opposed them in principle, but for a completely different reason. Consensus was reached fairly quickly in 1968. Why should not the royal commission do the same this time?

We are debating resolving the question of eliminating from our further discussions the issue of hereditary peers, and there is no need for us to debate the second stage in that context. We want to concentrate the discussion on the future, not the past, and ensure that we have a properly informed debate without the role of the hereditary peers interfering in it as it has in the past.

Many Conservative Members have referred to the fact that we have not been able to have a proper debate about the future composition of the House of Lords, simply because the issue has been confused by the context of the hereditary peers. It is important to resolve that question once and for all. That is what the Bill will do.

Amendment No. 5 is designed to delay the removal of the hereditary peers until the end of the current Parliament, and we have made it clear that it is important not to delay that long. Amendment No. 6 is presumably intended to be consequential on it, but it could have separate effects. It is designed to prevent the cancellation of existing writs of summons, which run the length of the Parliament.

Amendment No. 6 would import uncertainty to the Bill because it is not certain that without the provision peers would still be able to claim that their writs entitled them to a seat. There is a danger that it would operate separately, in that if amendment No. 5 were to be rejected and No. 6 accepted, a peer would have the right both to sit and vote in the House of Lords and to seek election to the House of Commons. I assume that those who tabled the amendment did not intend that.

New clause 1 would provide for the Act to lapse automatically at the end of the Parliament in which it is passed. In that case, unless further legislation had been passed in the meantime, the House of Lords as it is today would be recreated, and hereditary peers would once again become Members of the House of Lords. There are various objections to that. It would promote considerable uncertainty, but above all else the new clause is unacceptable because it would give those opposed to reform an incentive to delay the second stage and restore the status quo ante. We cannot support that and I doubt, in reality, that it can really be the Conservative party's intention.

New clause 2 would provide for the Act to lapse automatically two years after the proposed Joint Committee reported on the outcome of the royal commission's work. Again, unless further legislation had been passed in the meantime, that would mean that the House of Lords would be recreated. Hereditary peers would become eligible for membership of the House of Lords, but would lose their right to vote or stand in parliamentary elections, although in the mean time they could quite legitimately have been entered on the register of electors.

If the trigger point fell just before the next general election—possibly during the campaign—the effect on those hereditary peers who had been selected as parliamentary candidates would be far from clear. If it fell in the middle of a parliamentary Session, the effect on legislation already before the House of Lords is also not clear. The Bill provides for its coming into force after the end of the Session, precisely to avoid such problems. New clause 2 is confused and should be rejected, if for no other reason than that it is legally and politically uncertain in its effects.

New clause 13 provides that the Act will lapse and the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963 will be reinstated if a further Act has not been passed in this Parliament dealing with the composition of the House of Lords. Again, it is far from clear, because it does not define precisely what the trigger Bill might be. For example, would a Bill amending the Life Peerages Act 1958 so as to allow for a retirement age or a disclaimer of titles count? Such uncertainty is obviously unsatisfactory, and the new clause should not be accepted.

New clause 18 would provide for the Act to lapse three years after Royal Assent. The Bill provides for its substantive provisions to come into force at the end of the Session in which it is passed. That is precisely to avoid problems with legislation caught in mid-Session. The new clause would not avoid that danger and the Act could well come into effect in July or October 2002, right in the middle of a parliamentary Session, once again producing considerable uncertainty as to its effects.

New clause 10 was briefly mentioned in today's debate. It would add nothing to the Government's existing commitment to progressing further with Lords reforms. It would have no legal effect and there is no good reason why the statute book should be cluttered up with extra material of no consequence. On that basis, it should not form part of the Bill.

I repeat what I said at the outset: the Government are committed to stage 1 and to stage 2. If we do not definitively settle the question of the hereditary peers, we present ourselves with an obstacle to sensible debate and long-term reform. We have one party with a large vested interest in the status quo, and the very presence of the hereditary peers increases the temptation to look for difficulties, not solutions, in the reform of the House of Lords. The two-stage process is entirely consistent with British traditions of proceeding by evolution rather than by way of dramatic change.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 125, Noes 322.

Division No. 85] [7.50 pm
Amess, David Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Lansley, Andrew
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Leigh, Edward
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Letwin, Oliver
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Baldry, Tony Lidington, David
Beggs, Roy Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Bercow, John Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Beresford, Sir Paul Loughton, Tim
Body, Sir Richard MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Boswell, Tim McIntosh, Miss Anne
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brady, Graham McLoughlin, Patrick
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Malins, Humfrey
Browning, Mrs Angela Maples, John
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Butterfill, John May, Mrs Theresa
Cash, William Moss, Malcolm
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Nicholls, Patrick
Chope, Christopher Norman, Archie
Clappison, James Ottaway, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Page Richard
Collins, Tim Paice, James
Cormack, Sir Patrick Paterson, Owen
Cran, James Pickles, Eric
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Prior, David
Day, Stephen Redwood, Rt Hon John
Duncan Smith, Iain Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Evans, Nigel Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Fabricant, Michael Ruffley, David
Fallon, Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Flight, Howard Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Soames, Nicholas
Fox, Dr Liam Spicer, Sir Michael
Fraser, Christopher Spring, Richard
Gale, Roger Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Garnier, Edward Steen, Anthony
Gibb, Nick Streeter, Gary
Gill, Christopher Swayne, Desmond
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Syms, Robert
Gray, James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Green, Damian Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Greenway, John Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Grieve, Dominic Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hague, Rt Hon William Townend, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Tredinnick, David
Hammond, Philip Trend, Michael
Hawkins, Nick Tyrie, Andrew
Heald, Oliver Walter, Robert
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Wardle, Charles
Horam, John Waterson, Nigel
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Whitney, Sir Raymond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Whittingdale, John
Hunter, Andrew Willetts, David
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Woodward, Shaun
Jenkin, Bernard Yeo, Tim
Johnson Smith, Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Sir David Madel.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Ainger, Nick Dalyell, Tam
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Darvill, Keith
Allan, Richard Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Allen, Graham Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Davidson, Ian
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Atherton, Ms Candy Dawson, Hilton
Atkins, Charlotte Dean, Mrs Janet
Austin, John Dismore, Andrew
Barnes, Harry Donohoe, Brian H
Barron, Kevin Doran, Frank
Battle, John Dowd, Jim
Bayley, Hugh Drown, Ms Julia
Beard, Nigel Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Edwards, Huw
Begg, Miss Anne Efford, Clive
Beith, Rt Hon A J Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Ennis, Jeff
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fisher, Mark
Bennett, Andrew F Fitzpatrick, Jim
Benton, Joe Fitzsimons, Loma
Bermingham, Gerald Flint, Caroline
Best, Harold Flynn, Paul
Blackman, Liz Follett, Barbara
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Boateng, Paul Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Borrow, David Foulkes, George
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Galloway, George
Bradshaw, Ben Gapes, Mike
Brake, Tom Gardiner, Barry
Brand, Dr Peter Gerrard, Neil
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Gibson, Dr Ian
Browne, Desmond Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Burden, Richard Godman, Dr Norman A
Burgon, Colin Goggins, Paul
Burnett, John Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Burstow, Paul Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Butler, Mrs Christine Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cable, Dr Vincent Grocott, Bruce
Caborn, Richard Grogan, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gunnell, John
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hain, Peter
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Caplin, Ivor Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Casale, Roger Harris, Dr Evan
Caton, Martin Harvey, Nick
Cawsey, Ian Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Chaytor, David Healey, John
Chidgey, David Hepburn, Stephen
Clapham, Michael Hesford, Stephen
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hill, Keith
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hope, Phil
Clelland, David Hopkins, Kelvin
Coaker, Vernon Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coleman, Iain Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Connarty, Michael Humble, Mrs Joan
Cooper, Yvette Hurst, Alan
Corbett, Robin Iddon, Dr Brian
Corston, Ms Jean Illsley, Eric
Cotter, Brian Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cousins, Jim Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cranston, Ross Jamieson, David
Crausby, David Jenkins, Brian
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cummings, John Johnson, Miss Melanie
Cunliffe, Lawrence (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jenny Plaskitt, James (Wolverh'ton SW)
Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pope, Greg
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keeble, Ms Sally Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prosser, Gwyn
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Purchase, Ken
Kidney, David Quinn, Lawrie
Kilfoyle, Peter Radice, Giles
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rammell, Bill
Kirkwood, Archy Rapson, Syd
Kumar, Dr Ashok Raynsford, Nick
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rendel, David
Laxton, Bob Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher Roche, Mrs Barbara
Levitt, Tom Rogers, Allan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooker, Jeff
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livsey, Richard Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ruane, Chris
Llwyd, Elfyn Ruddock, Joan
Lock, David Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Love, Andrew Ryan, Ms Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Salter, Martin
McCabe, Steve Sanders, Adrian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Savidge, Malcolm
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Sawford, Phil
McDonagh, Siobhain Sedgemore, Brian
McDonnell, John Shaw, Jonathan
McIsaac, Shona Sheerman, Barry
Mackinlay, Andrew Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Shipley, Ms Debra
McNamara, Kevin Short, Rt Hon Clare
McNulty, Tony Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
MacShane, Denis Singh, Marsha
Mactaggart, Fiona Skinner, Dennis
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Martlew, Eric Snape, Peter
Maxton, John Soley, Clive
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Southworth, Ms Helen
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Squire, Ms Rachel
Miller, Andrew Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Moore, Michael Stevenson, George
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morley, Elliot Stinchcombe, Paul
Mountford, Kali Stott, Roger
Mudie, George Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Mullin, Chris Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stringer, Graham
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stuart, Ms Gisela
Oaten, Mark (Dewsbury) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Olner, Bill Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Öpik, Lembit Temple-Morris, Peter
Osborne Ms Sandra Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Palmer, Dr Nick Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pearson, Ian Tipping, Paddy
Pendry, Tom Touhig, Don
Pickthall, Colin Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Willis, Phil
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wills, Michael
Tyler, Paul Winnick, David
Wallace, James Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Walley, Ms Joan Wood, Mike
Wareing, Robert N Woolas, Phil
Watts, David Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Webb, Steve
Welsh, Andrew Tellers for the Noes:
Whitehead, Dr Alan Mr. David Hanson and
Wicks, Malcolm Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Letwin

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert— '(2) Holders of hereditary peerages shall be entered on to the electoral register at the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed and at any time after the end of Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed the holders of hereditary peerages shall be entitled to vote in elections to the House of Commons.'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in page 1, line 17, leave out 'such'.

No. 34, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'or the European Parliament'.

No. 33, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'as he considers appropriate' and insert 'in order to give effect to section 2 of this Act.'. No. 7, in page 1, line 23, leave out from 'enactment' to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert— '(5) No order under this section shall be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

Mr. Letwin

After the shock of that terrible defeat, let me move on to the next group of amendments.

We have so far debated the great question to which clause 4(1) gives rise about the relationship between stage 1 and stage 2 and the Government's desire and ability, or otherwise, to move on to stage 2. This group of amendments deals with the remainder of clause 4. I can relieve the Leader of the House and the Committee by saying that we have no problem with the entirely anodyne and welcome aim of clause 4 to restore the right of hereditary peers, who will no longer be able to sit and vote in the House of Lords, to vote at parliamentary elections. Members on both sides of the Committee have waxed eloquent on the propriety of peers having those democratic rights, and we wholly subscribe to the view that they should. There is nothing between the Conservatives and the Government on that aim.

The problem, however, is the way in which clause 4 seeks to achieve that aim in subsections (2), (3) and (4). I doubt whether Ministers intended to do anything improper or unusual in the drafting of clause 4. The Leader of the House may find my remarks surprising, believing that the drafting was not out of the ordinary. I suspect that the genesis of those three subsections was that people who are learned in these matters—the Government's legal service and the parliamentary draftsmen—sought to achieve the aim given them by the right hon. Lady to restore the rights of hereditaries to vote. They produced clause 2, and they were told to produce some transitional provisions.

Alas, in carrying out their task, they have displayed just about every constitutional and juridical vice possible. None of those vices is unprecedented, but the clause is a textbook case. It is a sort of Christmas tree on which have been hung all the ghastly presents passed down by draftsmen past. If we are not careful to say something about that—or, better still, to do something about it—those presents will become subject to the hereditary principle; they will be handed down to the next set of draftsmen and they will appear in other Bills, in which their effects may be much wider, in circumstances in which the aims are less laudable than those of clause 4.

First, let me deal with a minor point. I apologise in advance to the Leader of the House in case I have made an error. If so, I shall be happy to be corrected. I believe that clause 4(3) contains a technical defect, in that their lordships already have the right to vote in European elections. The provision of that right is therefore unnecessary. That is a minor point, and I do not seek to criticise anyone or to pay much attention to the point. My other points are more serious.

Subsection (3) also contains the widest possible order-making power. It states: The Secretary of State may by order make such transitional provision … as he considers appropriate. That may appear to be a perfectly normal piece of drafting, but the final words are there for one purpose and one purpose only—to give the Secretary of State the widest possible latitude in designing the order. That is the opposite of what Parliament ought to seek to do in passing primary legislation: we ought to constrain the powers of the Secretary of State as far as we can.

In case the Leader of the House or any of her hon. Friends intends to leap in to tell me that previous Governments, including those of my own party, have been guilty of taking wide order-making powers, I am happy to admit that there has been that tendency. However, I do not wish—and I hope the right hon. Lady does not wish—to repeat the sins of the past. Now is as good a time as any to try to put matters right. Clause 4(3) is an example of the worst kind.

If that were all, because such powers have been so frequently taken, and although I have made it my practice on every possible occasion since my election to the House to point such matters out, I must admit that my case would not be strong. Alas, clause 4(4)(a) contains the next ghastly legislative vice—the famed Henry VIII clause. The Secretary of State will not only be allowed to make such provisions as he considers appropriate. He will be allowed to modify the effect of any enactment or any provision made under an enactment". Who knows how judges will see such powers now that they have multiplied out of all proportion? I attach some significance to the fact that the powers are being built into a major constitutional Bill that will attract the attention of the courts and the constitutional commentators.

Taken at face value, clause 4(4)(a) allows the Secretary of State to do by order just about anything to just about any previous enactment so long as he—and this is the test—considers the action appropriate. We would not want that if we were starting with a clean piece of paper and considering what primary legislation a responsible House of Commons should pass.

I regret that that is not the end of the matter. Having given the wide powers, including the Henry VIII provision, clause 4(4)(b) adds the third vice of which we have seen all too much—and again in the context of a major constitutional Bill. As the Secretary of State was being given the widest possible powers, including the power by order to modify an enactment—something dreadful that has crept into our legislation—one might have thought that there would have been an attempt to create an element of constitutional or juridical decency by allowing the House of Commons to vote the thing in before it became an order. Not a bit of it! Clause 4(4)(b) provides for the order to be made by negative resolution. We all know what that means: on the whole, such orders go through on the nod. I do not say that these provisions will, because they are matters of great moment. Someone may pick them up and they may be debated. However, there is no point in negative resolution procedure unless the Government want to weight things in favour of their going through on the nod.

This is a major constitutional Bill that does something of importance in conveying a democratic right to a set of people, but it is done in a way that exhibits each of the three tendencies—the negative resolution procedure; the power to repeal and change Acts by order; and decisions being governed only by an appropriateness test—that have most bedevilled primary legislation over the past five, 10 or 15 years. Those tendencies started their sorry journey into legislative history 20, 30 or 40 years ago. If they were absolutely necessary, I suppose that we could understand it, but they are not.

Amendment No. 22 is designed to resolve the problem cleanly and clearly. It would put straightforwardly into statute provisions equivalent to the admirable clarity of clause 2. It would compel the entry into the electoral register of the names of those who need to be given democratic rights, with no orders, no negative resolutions and no Henry VIII clauses. That would end the need for the rest of clause 4. We cannot see the slightest reason why it should prove inoperable or why the Government should resist it.

In fact, this is where the whole thing begins to be interesting rather than merely a sorry tale. We have much scratched our heads asking ourselves why, given that the Leader of the House did not ask for it to be done in this way, it was done in this way. Why did all the learned, clever people employed by the Government to think these things through choose to display in a major constitutional Bill all the vices in a compact Christmas package? Perhaps it was oversight, but we doubt it. On reflection, we think that there is a reason, which has to do with the ghost in the machine that we see in the whole Bill and to which we have often alluded.

8.15 pm

We think that the problem is this. I should be delighted if the right hon. Lady told me that I am wrong. So far as it goes, clause 2 is fine. Unfortunately, in another place, after the Government have perhaps accepted the Weatherill amendment, clause 2 will cause some difficulty. Hereditary peers will not be disqualified from voting, but they will have a rather remarkable franchise. They will have the right to elect not a Member of Parliament but a Member of the upper House—by rumour, 90-odd such Members. They will have that right not as part of a constituency of 60,000 or 70,000 electors but as one of 500 electors. Under those circumstances, the Secretary of State may wish to do all sorts of things to make transitional provisions that do not allow those who are in one way or another taking part in the Weatherill election to take part also in a normal democratic election, such as one to the House of Commons. We have no idea whether that is the case because we—I assume like the Leader of the House—do not know what the Weatherill amendment contains or may contain. Perhaps it will not even be moved.

Mrs. Beckett

I may be able to save the hon. Gentleman much tortuous thought. He and his colleagues seem to have spent much time anticipating all sorts of Machiavellian Government behaviour that does not exist. There is a simple reason for the provisions: our desire to be as helpful as possible in giving people who will lose their rights to sit in another place their proper rights as citizens at the earliest point possible, even if that should come at a time inconvenient from the point of view of the normal construction of an electoral register. It is no more or less than that.

Mr. Letwin

If that is the sole reason, as it may be, the right hon. Lady will have no difficulty in accepting amendment No. 22 because it compels inclusion in the electoral register. The criterion would be fulfilled as a matter of law. If the right hon. Lady thinks that it will not work, it would be interesting to know why.

I continue to believe that there is a subtext. It is likely that there will be a considerable mess when we get to the Weatherill amendment in respect of ensuring that the right people get, or do not get, the right to vote in parliamentary elections. I do not know how that will be resolved. I know that the right hon. Lady—if, as I suspect, she is being straight with us about not knowing what the Weatherill amendment will look like—cannot know how that will all come out. There is at least an appearance that this provision creates latitude and discretion to try to deal with that problem. If she says that that was not the intent, I am delighted to hear it. If it is not, she should subscribe all the more readily to amendment No. 22, in which case the problem that I think may have existed in the minds of those who drafted the provisions will not apply. If it turns out that I am right about the reason, we shall have the bizarre position that the cause of these juridical vices is, as we have repeatedly said, another sort of outrage: the outrage of parliamentary blackmail.

I know that the Leader of the House maintains—I think, perfectly sincerely—that there is nothing wrong with the Government wanting to get their business through smoothly and being willing to make a major concession to do so. As with many such things, it depends which end of the telescope one is looking through. To us, the very same thing is differently described: it constitutes a statement by the Government that part of the constitution would be right if their lordships had behaved themselves, but wrong if they had not. That is the wrong way in principle to go about constitutional reform. If I am right that at least part of the cause of the elaborate and horrible procedure in clause 4, with the three vices that I mentioned, is the process that I have described as parliamentary blackmail, we have an unfortunate case of one vice begetting another.

If the Leader of the House wholly denies that chain of logic, that is marvellous. She can then surely accept amendment No. 22, because it clearly puts the onus on anyone who wants to obey the law—as returning officers and the whole of local government will want to—to ensure that hereditary peers are put on the register. I have to say that, in that event, if and when the Weatherill amendments are accepted, it will be necessary to amend both clause 2 and clause 4. I doubt whether the Leader of the House will deny that. Then we will have a clean amendment of clean clauses. That is how the thing ought to run. When the Bill comes back to the House after the amendments have been moved in the other place, we shall be able to see whether the process that it inaugurates is workable and sensible. We have not been able to debate the Weatherill amendments in advance because we have not seen them, but at least we shall be able to do so ex post.

Mr. Grieve

I wait with great interest to hear what the Leader of the House has to say, but I find that the thrust of amendment No. 22 is straightforward. The amendment provides in statutory form the objective that appears to be desired by all parties in the House. It will be right for hereditary peers, as the amendment says, to be entered on to the electoral register at the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed and at any time after the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed the holders of hereditary peerages shall be entitled to vote in elections to the House of Commons. What is the harm in spelling that out?

Clause 2 says: The holder of a hereditary peerage shall not be disqualified by virtue of that peerage", but thereafter the power is reserved to the Government to decide when the clause will be introduced. What is the rational logic of that and what is the drawback to amendment No. 22?

I am perfectly prepared to accept what the Leader of the House said. One of the reasons for introducing legislation by statutory instrument—heaven knows, we have heard this on countless occasions in proceedings on various bits of legislation, including the Henry VIII clause in the Human Rights Bill—is to ensure that something which needs to be done and which everyone agrees ought to be done can be done swiftly when the occasion arises. But if one knows precisely when the occasion will arise because it is clear that it will arise when a particular event happens, why on earth is the occasion not written into the Bill? I wait with great interest to hear from the Leader of the House why that is not so. On any analysis, I cannot see that amendment No. 22 could cause the Government any difficulty.

Mr. Letwin

Would my hon. Friend like to remedy a deficiency that I now see in my speech by outlining what he sees as the timetable for enactment and entry on the register?

Mr. Grieve

If the legislation contained the amendment, upon enactment, as the amendment states perfectly straightforwardly, at the end of the Session of Parliament in which the Act is passed—assuming that we are operating on this year's time scale, it would be at the end of October in the hiatus before the state opening—the names of hereditary peers would be entered on the electoral register to entitle them to vote in elections to the House of Commons thereafter.

One has to say, and I think my hon. Friend has said it, that the only potential problem might be the Weatherill amendment. The Government have told us not just once but repeatedly that we are not allowed to second-guess the Weatherill amendment. It is apparently a non-event. We have to assume that it will never happen. It is just one of those possibilities—a twinkle in the corner of the right hon. Lady's eye, but nothing more than that. If that is the case, being logical—I hope that I am being logical in applying a legal mind to the matter—amendment No. 22 must be correct.

It can hardly be surprising that when we are told by the Government that our amendment is not necessary because they prefer to make the provision under their powers to make statutory instruments, we ask why.

Mr. Maclennan

I am interested in the amendment, but I wonder whether there might not be a problem with it. There are certain categories of people who are excluded from privilege of voting, including people with certain mental conditions and people in jail. Amendment No. 22 would have the no doubt inadvertent effect of repealing those requirements so that hereditary peers, albeit criminals languishing in jail or people suffering from a mental condition, would be empowered to vote. I do not think that that would be sensible.

Mr. Grieve

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I can see that the amendment might produce that mischief, but the way to correct it is for the Leader of the House to say, "We accept the thrust of the amendment and on Report we will introduce an amendment of our own to do exactly that." All that she would need to add would be "subject to the normal disqualifications" or some other phrase that the genius of the legal draftsmen would have little difficulty in providing. While I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point, therefore, it does not deal with the reason why the provision has to be made by ministerial decree.

Mr. Letwin

I want to put it on the record that what we heard from the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely fair cop; that we have made an error; and that the remedy is exactly as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are, after all, the Opposition, and we do not have all the facilities that the Government have for drafting legislation or amendments. One of the purposes of the Committee is to enable us to suggest ideas that might be good. In this context, we think that the amendment is a very good idea. So why are we not to be allowed to have it? I do not understand why the right hon. Lady has already hinted that we shall be denied it.

Surely a central approach to all legislation is that we should at all times endeavour to deal with matters by primary legislation. Only if there is some compelling reason why they should be dealt with by statutory instrument should we so deal with them. Heaven knows, I am a member of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. One only has to see the wretched burden that is foisted on our shoulders on a weekly basis, often poorly drafted because it has been badly scrutinised, to know that it is much better if properly drafted primary legislation is introduced. On that basis, I commend amendment No. 22 to the House because it is a most desirable amendment. I shall need a lot of persuading by the Leader of the House that we should approach the matter in some other way.

The other thing that the Government cannot get away from is that in some way a sword of Damocles is being held over the other place. I accept that the Leader of the House will say, "No, of course there is not; that is ridiculous." However, when we see something left to the discretion of a Minister which should not be, because it affects the constitutional rights of Members of the other place who will be deprived of their constitutional rights, it behoves us to spell it out in black and white that, on losing the right to represent themselves in the other place, they will acquire a straightforward right to vote in elections for Members of the House of Commons. I hope that, at the end of the debate, the right hon. Lady will tell us that she is willing to think again on that point; I cannot see any legitimate reason why she should do otherwise.

8.30 pm

I do not intend to take up the Committee's time on the other amendments, other than to say a word about amendment No. 32, which is extremely short. Although it would only leave out the word "such" in line 17, it is one of those small amendments that has a compelling purpose. Clause 4 provides that: The Secretary of State may … make such transitional provision about the entitlement of holders of hereditary peerages to vote at elections", but surely that should read "transitional provision", not "such transitional provision". Why is the word "such" there? The only possible purpose for its being there—at this stage, conspiracy theories begin to surface in my mind—is to limit in some way the entitlement of the Leader of the House in making that transitional provision. The clause should deal with a transitional provision and no more than that. I await with great interest to hear why that word is there.

From past experience of serving on Committees—not necessarily in the Chamber, but upstairs as well—it strikes me as extraordinary how all sorts of funny words creep into legislation, when there is absolutely no reason why they should appear. I remember that in the case of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, we had foisted on us a provision forbidding the playing of "musical or other instruments", which raised strange ideas in my mind as to what other instruments might be played in a public procession.

Sir Patrick Cormack


Mr. Grieve

I think that a drum would probably qualify as a musical instrument, but I shall not be diverted from my main purpose, which is to try to ensure that the Bill before us is comprehensible and straightforward.

The main issue remains that we should proceed by way of primary legislation unless there is a good reason not to do so. There is no good reason in this case. It is well within the wit of the House of Commons to provide in the Bill for the rights that hereditary peers will be entitled to when they cease to have the right to represent themselves in the upper House.

Mr. Swayne

The issue before us is one for which I have a great deal of enthusiasm. The matter has been thoroughly dealt with by my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), so I shall not detain the Committee by repeating what they said. However, I shall say that the issue is of monumental importance, for it is the question of the way in which we are governed. It is for that reason that I sought election to Parliament.

This country is being deluged and wrecked by poorly drafted and poorly thought through secondary legislation—some 2,300 such instruments every year, almost 20 for every parliamentary sitting day. From having sat on various Committees, we all know the level of scrutiny that it is possible to give those instruments. It is a nonsense, given that we have in the House an effective and well-oiled machine for passing primary legislation. We should therefore confine ourselves, in so far as it is possible, to enacting primary legislation. Of course, it would give us far less time to deal with such legislation if all the consequent detail of those enabling measures had to be dealt with in each Bill. We would have less law, but that would be to our great benefit because we are over-governed.

It is a matter of great regret that the dreadful principle of enabling legislation, which so pollutes our polity, is now, through this Bill, to be brought to the very heart of our constitution. That a constitutional Bill should contain order-making powers—Henry VIII clauses—is deeply regrettable and offensive. For that reason, I have great enthusiasm for the amendments, especially amendment No. 22. The Committee's attention has already been drawn to the specific respect in which the amendment is defective, but there is a speedy remedy available, and I hope that the Leader of the House will indicate that it is her intention to deal with it, or at least to give good and plausible reasons why she will not do so.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Have we not had an illustration this evening of how scrutiny can work in this House? In searching out the defect in our amendment, it might not have been the sole intention of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) to illustrate the value of having a proper debate in Committee, but in so doing he has applied proper scrutiny to the amendment. However, we are being denied the opportunity to scrutinise the Government's detailed proposals.

Mr. Swayne

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) has done the Committee and, indeed, Parliament, a singular service by drawing to our attention the importance of such scrutiny. After all, that is what Committee stage is for.

Throughout the Committee stage, we are constrained by the opacity of the real agenda behind the Bill and by the monstrous notion that everything is to be changed by an alleged amendment that might or might not be moved in another place. An almost identical amendment, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), has already been rejected by the Committee, so it strikes me as absurd that our subsequent debate has been constrained by that hypothetical future amendment.

Mr. Letwin

Although the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) has done us a real service, since acknowledging to him that his was a fair cop, we have had an opportunity to reflect further and we are no longer quite so convinced that amendment No. 22, as drafted, would override the existing provisions. It might be a matter of intention. I hope that either my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) or the Leader of the House will enlighten us on that point.

Mr. Swayne

With respect, that is what the Leader of the House is for, in her capacity as occupant of the Treasury Bench during this debate. I hope that she will take the opportunity at least to say that she will consider the amendment and that a similar or identical amendment will be tabled on Report. I have noticed that, during these debates, the right hon. Lady has a habit of moving her lips silently, denying the Committee the benefit of hearing her words.

Mrs. Beckett

Be grateful.

Mr. Swayne

Perhaps we should be. On that, I shall conclude my remarks, so that we may hear what the right hon. Lady has to say all the sooner.

Mr. Forth

Here we go again—I think that that is the appropriate phrase to use at this point in our proceedings. I shall resist the temptation to refer to the fact that we are considering clause 4, as that would probably be inappropriate at this stage. That thought crossed my mind when the Leader of the House intervened earlier effectively to say, "Trust me". That is a touching request, but one that I find rather easy to resist. We cannot proceed on that sort of basis in an area this important and this uncertain.

The amendments are important because they highlight an extraordinary part of the Bill. Before I commence my brief analysis of clause 4, subsections (3) and (4), I must make it clear that when we are operating in an environment of such uncertainty, it is perhaps inevitable that the Government should want to build a degree of flexibility into the Bill. For that reason, the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) have not yet persuaded me totally. He seeks a clean, simple solution, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). However, I think that there must be some flexibility in legislation of this kind, especially given its background.

As we have often said, we do not know what stage 1 will be or how long it will last. We do not know what might happen to the Bill in another place. No matter how much my hon. Friend would like to see it, it may be a little unrealistic to seek to nail down the Bill at this stage.

Mr. Letwin

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is bad for an Act to contain bad provisions on the ground that one bad feature necessitates another? Surely the remedy lies in improving the first bad provision.

Mr. Forth

Of course that is so—if we enjoyed the certainty and predictability of knowing where we were going and where we would end up. Everyone would like to know that. Unfortunately, we are not in that position. This Bill must be considered in light of the fact that we do not know what lies beyond it or where it is taking us. Nevertheless, I am prepared to concede—as I am in a generous mood, which, uncharacteristically, is not shared by my hon. Friends—that a degree of flexibility is required at this stage. However, I then turn to the provisions of clause 4—which are the subject of the amendments before us—

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, but I do not follow the logic of his argument. He said that there may be changes later in another place—I fully accept that point, which has been discussed at some length. However, there is surely no reason why the Government should not introduce a contingent amendment that would bring the Bill back into order. I cannot see any reason not to correct the Bill today.

Mr. Forth

That is an interesting and rather persuasive argument. If we were to do what my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has suggested, the Bill would become more certain and predictable in the context of our current knowledge. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) points out, it would be possible for the Government to return to the Bill during subsequent legislative stages, and, in light of the knowledge that pertained then, introduce changes to make it more relevant. My hon. Friend is correct in his analysis, which may ultimately persuade me to support the amendment.

I draw the attention of the Committee and my hon. Friends to clause 4(3), which contains a succession of phrases that should alert all hon. Members and make them feel uneasy and nervous. The clause states that our old friend the Secretary of State may by order make such transitional provision … as he considers appropriate. That is a double dose of the sort of uncertainty and unlimited powers that we have learned to feel nervous about. That is bad enough, but clause 4(4) says that an order may modify the effect of enactment or any provision made under an enactment". That is about as broad as it gets. The clause gives the Secretary of State total flexibility, which would apparently enable him to do whatever he thought appropriate at the time. It sets no limitations and gives no direction or guidance. Therefore, it provides no certainty, no guarantees and no encouragement as to what might happen. The provision is completely open-ended.

If we combine that with the legislation's existing provisions, it strengthens one's feeling of unease. We are now entitled to be thoroughly suspicious of what has prompted the Government to include those sorts of provisions in the Bill and what they think might or might not happen or might go wrong in the future. That is worrying at this stage.

8.45 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Given that there is an element on the Labour Benches who believe in class warfare, is not my right hon. Friend alive to the risk that the Government could modify the arrangements to discriminate between one class of hereditary peer and another? For example, they might discriminate against viscounts or dukes and make alternative arrangements for mere barons.

Mr. Forth

I suppose that that is possible. Normally, I should have said that it is unlikely, but as my hon. Friend has pointed out, such is the dislike—that is a moderate word in this case—of the hereditary peers on the Government Benches that one might believe that any such action is possible. The provision not only gives no protection against such action, it would positively allow it. We should, at the very least, seek reassurances about that from the Leader of the House when she replies to the debate.

As if things were not bad enough, clause 4(4)(b) refers to a statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution". As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) pointed out a moment ago, when one allows for orders to be made by statutory instruments—a procedure with which we are familiar—no amendment may be made. Under that provision, a measure comes before the House on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Mr. Letwin

My right hon. Friend may be aware that tonight the House will be asked to nod through a statutory instrument that contains an egregious flaw precisely because it could not be amended in Committee.

Mr. Forth

I am aware of the motions on the Order Paper. We shall be asked to approve those and I hope that the House will be aware of difficulties in that provision and take a view on that matter. My hon. Friend's point illustrates very well the difficulty in which we may find ourselves with the Bill. Clause 4 contains a succession of phrases such as "may by order", "as he considers appropriate", and may modify the effect of any enactment", leading, finally, to shall be made by statutory instrument", so that the only protection left in the Bill is that the House can take or leave any measures that are proposed.

That is no protection at all because, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has just pointed out—I know that he feels strongly about this and is knowledgeable about the subject—we have on today's Order Paper a measure that has gone through the very process outlined in the Bill, and which is defective, yet the House can only accept or reject it. That is not good enough. I do not like to criticise the procedures of this place, above all places, but I regret to say that it is a flaw in our procedures. That will be compounded by the provision in clause 4(4)(b).

Where does that leave us? It leaves us in a great deal of difficulty. I am now persuaded, largely thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, that the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, which I judged too quickly and too harshly earlier, would make an appropriate alteration to the Bill at this stage. However, I think that my hon. Friend and I would agree that if the amendment were subsequently overtaken by events of which we now know little or nothing, we would accept that the Government would want to reconsider the provision and make further changes. That, in itself, would hardly be a satisfactory approach because amendments may be made in another place and the Bill may return here in a completely different form, in which case all our deliberations, which we are taking very seriously, would be as nothing. That is hardly a satisfactory state of affairs, but it is regrettably the position in which we find ourselves. I am persuaded—in fact, I have persuaded myself during my brief contribution—that I should support the amendment, but with the reservations that I have outlined. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give us more reassurance than we have had so far so that we may proceed in a more orderly way.

Mr. Maclennan

I have listened to the debate with interest and not without sympathy because, on the face of it, clause 4 does appear to be a Henry VIII clause. Naturally, I am rather unhappy to see that in a Bill of such importance. However, there are some difficulties with the amendments and new clauses. I alluded tentatively to a couple that sprang to mind, but I see some others.

One problem is the age of majority for voting purposes. Amendment No. 22 appears to waive the requirement to have attained the age of majority. It may be thought that the peculiar abilities of the hereditary peers mean that that is not of great significance. After all, this House has in the past provided a special distinction for women. Before the flapper vote was introduced, women were not allowed to vote under the age of 30, so the courts might take the view that Parliament had intended peers to be able to vote at any age.

Mr. Grieve

I am absolutely fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Even if it were true that the proposal would not be open to judicial interpretation by taking into consideration the restrictions that exist for ordinary mortals, simply adding an extra sentence saying that the provision was subject to the relevant clauses of the Representation of the People Acts would solve the whole problem, would it not?

Mr. Maclennan

Well, yes, but that is the point—so many further matters have to be taken into account that it might be better to proceed by way of subordinate legislation and spell out what has to be considered.

Amendment No. 22 states: Holders of hereditary peerages shall be entered on to the electoral register". That imposes a duty, but it is not specified on whom. It also puts peers in a rather peculiar category.

Ordinary mortals are entitled to vote only once they appear on the electoral register, having complied with the registration process by submitting a form that they have filled in, showing where they live and that sort of thing. The amendment involves a duty, but it is not specific; nor is it placed on a specific person. Although the intention behind the proposal is meritorious, the method proposed is defective. However, I look forward with great interest to hearing why the Government are proceeding as they are, and I do not want to postpone that enjoyment any longer.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) has certainly enjoyed himself this evening. He referred earlier to having a frolic. We do not usually associate him with frolics, but he certainly disported himself with oratorical eloquence. However, this is a serious amendment, and I urge the Leader of the House to treat it seriously.

For the purpose of this argument, I urge hon. Members to accept that the Government are saying that the House of Lords has to be reformed because its legitimacy is defective. That is the premise on which the Bill is based. If we accept that, it is most extraordinary that a Bill of this nature should have at its heart a Henry VIII clause. There is no more illegitimate device—I am delighted that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is nodding—than the Henry VIII clause, which gives a Secretary of State draconian powers. If the Government are trying to claim that, by this Bill, they are improving our constitutional and parliamentary system, why in the name of goodness do they put a Henry VIII clause at the centre—especially when there is no justification for such a clause?

We are not dealing with emergency legislation. We all accept that, on occasions, the House must, with great reluctance, give a Secretary of State wide and sweeping powers. We have done so, from time to time, in connection with Northern Ireland and other emergencies. I always find that a difficult pill to swallow, but I can sometimes accept that the national interest demands that I do so. That is not so in this case. The Leader of the House will have to put up a very good defence if she is to persuade us that it is.

I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who moved the amendment so eloquently. He said that he had always had grave misgivings about Henry VIII clauses. He has not had the good fortune to be in the House for very long, and we have not had the good fortune to benefit from his sage counsel and wise advice for very long. Some of us who have been hon. Members for a long time have rebelled against such clauses, even when introduced by our own parties. I cannot for the life of me see the justification for such a clause. Perhaps the Leader of the House will say that it is to enable writs of acceleration to be given, so that peers may be put on the electoral register very quickly, but that is not a substantial argument.

The interesting and somewhat mischievous point raised by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross does not hold water. He argued that, in effect, we would be giving the franchise to legions of lunatic, criminal or infant peers, who would swamp the electoral register, destroying at a stroke—or, perhaps, three strokes—the principles on which it is based. He knows, and I know, that that is arrant nonsense. If, at the time of enactment, a noble lord happens to be languishing at Her Majesty's pleasure—that has happened before; the Leader of the House must not become too hoity-toity about it—is anybody seriously suggesting that that criminal lord, or perhaps somebody detained elsewhere in a straitjacket, would immediately have the franchise conferred on him, and that the removal of one disqualification would automatically lead to the removal of another? Of course it would not.

Even if the Leader of the House, who is renowned for her desire to play safe on all occasions, thought that such a contingency posed a risk, all she would have to do is add to the amendment words similar to those suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)—"subject to the Representation of the People Act", and so on. None the less, that is not a particularly valid argument. It was an Aunt Sally, suggested with mischievous eloquence and elegance by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

If, by any chance, the Leader of the House is not minded to accept amendment No. 22—I believe and hope that she is, because it does not detract one iota from the purport or intention of the Government's Bill—I draw her attention to amendment No. 7. That amendment does at least mean that we have some safeguards. It states: No order under this section shall be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament. That is something of a safeguard. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that it is valid.

We seek to ensure that wide-ranging and unnecessary powers are not bestowed on the Secretary of State—the emphasis is on the word "unnecessary"—that there is a strict limitation on precisely what the Bill does, and that that is clear and unambiguous. After all, that should be the aim of legislation. It should be understandable to all those to whom it applies. Some of the snide comments by Labour Members about hereditary peers show that some extra comprehensibility should commend itself to them.

9 pm

Mrs. Beckett

At the outset of the debate, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said that nothing on aims divided us and that it was a matter merely of how the aims that we shared were given effect. For once, he and I are wholeheartedly in agreement.

The hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement on another matter. He kindly said that he was positive that the Government were acting in good faith. I return the compliment. I am sure that the Opposition are also acting in good faith in feeling that their amendments will improve the Bill. However, the suspicion—which is perfectly natural; I would never attack an Opposition for being suspicious of a Government's motives—with which he has viewed what the Government are doing, as well as his initial confidence in the drafting of the Opposition amendments, is misplaced.

I do not deride the hon. Gentleman for that. We have all had experience in the House of tabling an amendment, feeling confident that it was impeccably drafted and that we had foreseen all its implications, only to discover on wiser advice that that was not quite the case. We are all trying to get to the right outcome. That is a good basis on which to begin the debate.

The amendment of the hon. Member for West Dorset is intended—his remarks confirmed it—to ensure that, after the passage of the Bill, those who lose their right to sit in the House of Lords have equal treatment with other citizens. The amendment also explores the Government's intention and seeks to put that intention, as he understood it, correctly in the Bill.

I have no quarrel with the intention that lies behind the amendment—that the House should clearly understand what the Government are seeking to do. As I say, we all know that it is not easy to draft amendments that have exactly the effect that one desires, but I hope that I can reassure Conservative Members that the Government are genuinely seeking to do what those Members want, and that the Opposition could even withdraw their amendments.

The underlying aim of the method that the Government have chosen to give hereditary peers the same voting rights as any other citizen is to maintain the maximum amount of flexibility. That is so that nothing in the Bill inadvertently delays or impedes the granting of those rights. The last thing that the Government want is that, by trying to draft the legislation in just the right way and by placing everything in the Bill, we hold up people's right to vote or, indeed, to be candidates for election to this place. No one on either side of the Committee wishes that to happen.

Hon. Members have put great stress on amendment No. 22. It would give someone the right to be added to the electoral register. The first part of the amendment would add hereditary peers, deprived of the right to sit in the House of Lords, to, for example, the register that would run, if the Bill were to be passed at the end of the Session, from now until February 2000. It would not add them to any subsequent register. I presume that that is the aim of the second part of the amendment. That, unfortunately, as the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) wisely observed, has the inadvertent effect of also enfranchising an hereditary peer who would normally be barred on other grounds of a general application, such as age, incapacity or imprisonment or being a life peer.

It is to avoid listing grounds for disqualification and all the other territory that would be involved in getting the proposal exactly right that the Government took the path that is reflected in clause 2. I say openly to Opposition Members that we considered putting something like the amendment in the Bill. It was only the process of exploring the necessary detail so that we could be absolutely confident of getting the procedure right that persuaded the Government that it might be wiser to take the course that we are now pursuing.

Amendment No. 32 paves the way for amendment No. 33, which I fear is also defective. The power that it cites relates to clause 2, but it is not a power to give effect to the clause. I am advised that, in consequence, it would be an impediment to implementing the clause, which I am sure was not intended.

Amendment No. 34 raises the separate issue of European elections. I think that the hon. Member for West Dorset was slightly suspicious because he could not immediately see any reason why a reference to the European Parliament should be needed. He said correctly that, at present, hereditary peers have a right to vote in European elections because their disqualification relates only to voting for the Westminster Parliament, of which at present they are Members in perpetuity. It rests on that basis.

However, the reference to the European Parliament in clause 4 is intended to assist those hereditary peers who are resident overseas and to put them on exactly the same basis as any other citizens who are resident overseas, who enjoy rights to vote in European parliamentary elections on the basis of their right to vote in Westminster elections. It would be possible to address the issue by other means, but that would be more administratively tedious. It would duplicate another procedure and cause greater difficulties for the group involved. I repeat, we are anxious to ensure that everyone who ceases to sit as an hereditary peer has the same rights as any other citizen who is in the same circumstances. As it happens, the amendment would prevent a simple method of securing equal treatment from being implemented.

Finally, we come to amendment No. 7. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) correctly says that the amendment does not propose to change the Government's procedures as identified, but proposes an affirmative rather than a negative procedure in respect of the power to make the necessary provisions. Again, that is not the end of the world.

The Government have gone for the negative procedure to be helpful. We wish to provide maximum flexibility to give effect to these rights at the earliest possible date after Royal Assent. Hon. Members will be aware that the affirmative procedure requires an instrument to be laid while the House of Commons is sitting. None of us can predict precisely the circumstances in which all this procedure may come into effect. For example, so as to include hereditary peers in a register being prepared in, say, November, it might be to the benefit of sensible administrative practice and to the individuals involved for such an order to be made between the end of one Session and the beginning of another. That might get individuals on to the electoral register in the simplest and speediest way, in a way that might not be possible if the House of Commons happened not to be sitting.

The Government's overall approach has been taken in a wish genuinely to be helpful. This is all on the record so that right hon. and hon. Members can turn to it should they in any way be concerned that things are not working out as we hope they will. However, the power is tightly defined. There are only a limited number of ways in which it can be exercised. The fact that we are talking of a transitional power might have been overlooked. Although I understand, of course, all the anxieties about Henry VIII powers, attacks on those powers are usually based on the fear that rights will be taken away. In this case, we are proposing a transitional power which will not remove, but add to, people's rights.

The power has been described in the debate as completely open-ended, but it is not. It is a transitional power to deal with a transitional situation. I say, with great respect, that our short debate, to which hon. Members have brought ingenuity and skill, has admirably illustrated the nature and scale of the problems with which the Government were trying to deal—by retaining maximum flexibility in dealing with the matter in secondary legislation.

I assure the Committee that the only reason for the proposals and for the way in which they have been made is to create the maximum opportunity to deal with the proper concern that no one who might be removed from the House of Lords should lack the normal right of any citizen to participate in elections to this place or, should they wish to stand for election to this place, be excluded from doing so for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The right hon. Lady made a conciliatory speech, and said that she appreciated the sincerity, good faith and all the rest of it that lay behind the amendments. Although we are grateful for that, her argument did not sway us. It was not a powerful argument. We are considering a Bill that is paving the way for major constitutional change. There is no guarantee of how long the new House will last, or of whether it will become a permanent House or a semi-permanent House or be swept away within a year or two; we do not know. I shall not and I cannot—as I would be ruled out of order—seek to rehearse those arguments again in the debate on this group of amendments.

We are considering a major constitutional change, and the Government are taking draconian powers to themselves. I should have thought that the right hon. Lady would instinctively be against Henry VIII clauses. It is really not the way to legislate. The Government are taking more power for the Executive, and taking power away from the House.

I held out to the right hon. Lady the olive branch of amendment No. 7. I asked her whether, if the Government could not accept amendment No. 22, which we wanted them to accept, they could at least accept amendment No. 7. Had they done so, as an earnest of their good faith, we should have been moderately content. We would at least have been encouraged and have felt that they were moving in the right direction.

Mrs. Beckett

I tell the hon. Gentleman, very gently, that I realise that he is making a point of principle. However, we are seeking to enfranchise people—most whom will be Conservative supporters—at the earliest possible date. If he were fortunate in persuading the Committee to support the amendment, it is not the Government who would lose out.

Sir Patrick Cormack

It is not only the road to hell that is paved with good intentions. Although I accept, again for the purpose of this argument, the Government's good intentions, I believe that good intentions do not justify bad practice. The Opposition believe that Henry VIII clauses are bad legislative practice and should be resisted whenever they are inserted in legislation. We believe that it is wrong that there should be so much secondary legislation. We believe that it is wrong that so many things should be subject to negative rather than affirmative resolution.

For all those reasons, although I accept the right hon. Lady's good intentions, I urge the Committee to resist the Government's bad practice and to vote for the amendments.

Mr. Swayne

The right hon. Lady's remarks were deeply depressing, not least because she is the Leader of the whole House. Hon. Members complain continually that the Press Gallery is empty and that the House is held largely in contempt by much of the population. The reason is that the House has given away to the Executive many of its powers to make law. What is said and done in the Chamber is of little importance. It is deeply regrettable that the deluge of secondary legislation, which is swamping our body politic, should be extended to the making of our constitution.

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

The Committee divided: Ayes 125, Noes 315.

Division No. 86] [9.15 pm
Amess, David King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Lansley, Andrew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Leigh, Edward
Baldry, Tony Letwin, Oliver
Beggs, Roy Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Bercow, John Lidington, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Body, Sir Richard Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Boswell, Tim Loughton, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia McIntosh, Miss Anne
Brady, Graham MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Maclean, Rt Hon David
Browning, Mrs Angela McLoughlin, Patrick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Malins, Humfrey
Butterfill, John Maples, John
Cash, William Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Chope, Christopher Nicholls, Patrick
Clappison, James Norman, Archie
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Ottaway, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Page, Richard
Collins, Tim Paice, James
Cormack, Sir Patrick Paterson, Owen
Cran, James Pickles, Eric
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Prior, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Day, Stephen Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Duncan, Alan Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Duncan Smith, Iain Ruffley, David
Evans, Nigel St Aubyn, Nick
Fabricant, Michael Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fallon, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Flight, Howard Spicer, Sir Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spring, Richard
Fox, Dr Liam Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fraser, Christopher Steen, Anthony
Gale, Roger Streeter, Gary
Garnier, Edward Swayne, Desmond
Gibb, Nick Syms, Robert
Gill, Christopher Tapsell, Sir Peter
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gray, James Taylor, Sir Teddy
Green, Damian Townend, John
Greenway, John Tredinnick, David
Grieve, Dominic Tyrie, Andrew
Hague, Rt Hon William Walter, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Wardle, Charles
Hammond, Philip Waterson, Nigel
Hawkins, Nick Whitney, Sir Raymond
Heald, Oliver Whittingdale, John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Wilkinson, John
Horam, John Willetts, David
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Woodward, Shaun
Hunter, Andrew Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tellers for the Ayes: Mrs. Eleanor Laing and Sir David Madel.
Jenkin, Bernard
Key, Robert
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Atkins, Charlotte
Ainger, Nick Austin, John
Allen, Graham Barnes, Harry
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Barron, Kevin
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Battle, John
Atherton, Ms Candy Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel Ellman, Mrs Louise
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Ennis, Jeff
Begg, Miss Anne Fisher, Mark
Beith, Rt Hon A J Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Fitzsimons, Lorna
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Flint, Caroline
Bennett, Andrew F Flynn, Paul
Benton, Joe Follett, Barbara
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Best, Harold Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blackman, Liz Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Blears, Ms Hazel Foulkes, George
Blizzard, Bob Galloway, George
Boateng, Paul Gapes, Mike
Borrow, David Gardiner, Barry
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gerrard, Neil
Bradshaw, Ben Gibson, Dr Ian
Brake, Tom Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Brand, Dr Peter Godman, Dr Norman A
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Goggins, Paul
Browne, Desmond Golding, Mrs Llin
Burden, Richard Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Burgon, Colin Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Burnett, John Grocott, Bruce
Butler, Mrs Christine Grogan, John
Caborn, Richard Gunnell, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hain, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Caplin, Ivor Hanson, David
Casale, Roger Harris, Dr Evan
Caton, Martin Harvey, Nick
Cawsey, Ian Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Chaytor, David Healey, John
Chidgey, David Hepburn, Stephen
Chisholm, Malcolm Hesford, Stephen
Clapham, Michael Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hill, Keith
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hope, Phil
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hopkins, Kelvin
Clelland, David Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Coaker, Vernon Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Coleman, Iain Humble, Mrs Joan
Connarty, Michael Hurst, Alan
Cooper, Yvette Iddon, Dr Brian
Corbett, Robin Illsley, Eric
Corston, Ms Jean Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cotter, Brian Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian
Cranston, Ross Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Crausby, David Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davidson, Ian Keeble, Ms Sally
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Kidney, David
Dawson, Hilton Kilfoyle, Peter
Dean, Mrs Janet King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dismore, Andrew Kirkwood, Archy
Donohoe, Brian H Kumar, Dr Ashok
Doran, Frank Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dowd, Jim Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Drown, Ms Julia Laxton, Bob
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lepper, David
Edwards, Huw Leslie, Christopher
Efford, Clive Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rendel, David
Linton, Martin Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Livingstone, Ken
Livsey, Richard Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rogers, Allan
Llwyd, Elfyn Rooney, Terry
Lock, David Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Love, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
McAvoy, Thomas Ruane, Chris
McCabe, Steve Ruddock, Joan
McCafferty, Ms Chris Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Ryan, Ms Joan
McDonagh, Siobhain Salter, Martin
McDonnell, John Sanders, Adrian
McGuire, Mrs Anne Savidge, Malcolm
McIsaac, Shona Sawford, Phil
Mackinlay, Andrew Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McNulty, Tony Shipley, Ms Debra
MacShane, Denis Short, Rt Hon Clare
Mactaggart, Fiona Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Singh, Marsha
Mallaber, Judy Skinner, Dennis
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Maxton, John Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Meale, Alan Snape, Peter
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Southworth, Ms Helen
Miller, Andrew Squire, Ms Rachel
Moonie, Dr Lewis Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moore, Michael Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stevenson, George
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morley, Elliot Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mountford, Kali Stinchcombe, Paul
Mudie, George Stott, Roger
Mullin, Chris Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stringer, Graham
Oaten, Mark Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Olner, Bill Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Temple-Morris, Peter
Palmer, Dr Nick Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pendry, Tom Tipping, Paddy
Pickthall, Colin Touhig, Don
Pike, Peter L Trickett, Jon
Plaskitt, James Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pond, Chris Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pope, Greg Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Powell, Sir Raymond Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Tyler, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wallace, James
Primarolo, Dawn Walley, Ms Joan
Prosser, Gwyn Wareing, Robert N
Purchase, Ken Watts, David
Quinn, Lawrie Welsh, Andrew
Radice, Giles Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rammell, Bill Wicks, Malcolm
Rapson, Syd Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Raynsford, Nick
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Willis, Phil Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Tellers for the Noes:
Wood, Mike Mr. David Jamieson and
Woolas, Phil Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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